Munster show teeth in attack, but Connacht maintain momentum despite defeat

Sean Farrell reports from the Sportsground

IT WAS THE kind of night that Munster’s coaching staff must have been crying out for.

A crisp, clean evening (with a tame wind by west of Ireland standards) and a team stacked with most of the best players in the province. These were conditions where Munster could show their worth.

It will count for pittance if a similar performance can’t be delivered against English opposition over the coming European weekends, but Johann van Graan’s side issued an answer to a great many questions about their attack in a 24-31 win over Connacht last night.

From clinical scores via set-plays to multi-phase moves rounded off with excellent skills to leave the try-line waiting for Peter O’Mahony and Dan Goggin, Munster were more than value for their bonus point win in the Sportsground.

Van Graan would have been forgiven for verbalising a riposte to any criticisms he had stumbled on over the past month, but he didn’t need to. His team, with its brightest talents spread through starters and the bench, did the talking for him.

“All credit to all four Irish sides,” said the South African when teed up with a chance to praise his own team.

“We’ve all had the same challenges; a lot of physicality and we all have to manage our squad.

“We won last weekend against the top team in Europe and came here, won with a bonus point against possibly one of the form teams in Europe – they’ve been playing excellent rugby – we’ll take that.”

Throw in the fact that the pre-Christmas Pro14 Conference A leaders Glasgow Warriors lost in Treviso and so were overtaken by the southern province, it was a fruitful day at the office.

Having Chris Farrell helped. The ex-Grenoble man delivered gainlines at crucial times and his offload for Alex Wootton ultimately turned the visitors’ dominance into a winnable position. Hopefully, the heavy limp he ended the game with will not prove a serious issue.

Farrell makes a bust for Munster in Galway. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Carbery was excellent too. His 16 points are the obvious contribution, but his playmaking behind the screen was sharp and his kicking from hand was as assured as his 100% off the tee.

Munster are the big winners of this inter-pro window having won home and away and having played against majority front-line opponents in all three matches. However, while last night marked Connacht’s second loss over Christmas, it’s hard to escape a sense of continued positivity around Andy Friend’s side.

The Westerners were not at full strength this weekend, shorn of Bundee Aki, captain Jarrad Butler and the late withdrawal of Denis Buckley due to illness. Add the injured Kieran Marmion and Tiernan O’Halloran to that list and there was an unmistakable lack of internationals at Friend’s disposal.

Yet they are making the most of the resources they do have. And with his side nestled just five points off Glasgow as they break for Europe, Friend was delighted by the way his side ended the match pushing for a draw having been 14 down with 15 to play.

“We’re more than those three players (Aki, Buckley and Butler), we’re more than any individual. We’re a footy team who understand what we’re trying to do and, although we had the loss, there was a lot of positives we can take out of that. We’ll take that and keep building,” said Friend.

“I thought our boys, when we got our double shunts in defence there were some really good hits out there. We carried strong and with quick ball we were making holes through them.

“It was a good arm-wrestle, we said at half-time it was going to be the team who loses concentration, doesn’t stick to the system (who loses). In the end, in fairness, it was probably us.”

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Tom Farrell played a key role in all three Connacht tries. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I don’t think our concentration levels dropped, (Munster) lifted again. They kept the pressure on us and there was too much pressure there in the end…

“The way we fought back to within seven points and even right at the death, to keep challenging to get that draw. It just shows the ambition and desire of the team.”

While the other three provinces crank up the intensity for the Heineken Champions Cup over the next fortnight, Connacht can rest and rotate a touch again. And build further for a mid-Six Nations run when they will be one of the teams least impacted by international call-ups.

A chance to surge up the table again, putting points on top of a few cracking Christmas performances.

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