A dramatic penalty in the 90th minute of the game earned Munster a 27-27 draw against Connacht in Musgrave Park
These days it’s not enough to give your all for eighty minutes. You’ve got to be prepared to go the ninety. For it was in that minute that Paul Burke converted a penalty to earn Munster a share of the spoils.
Except that Munster earned more than that. In scoring four tries to Connacht’s three, Munster’s return was three points compared to Connacht’s two.
In a game that seed and sawed, a draw was probably a fair result, although Connacht will feel that their manful defence was deserving of holding onto their precarious three-point lead to the death.
The first quarter was dominated by Connacht. Their pressure got its reward after 11 minutes when Niall O’Brien burst onto a ball in midfield and careered through unmolested to score by the posts. Warwick’s conversion saw the Westerners off to a 7-0 lead.
However, Munster weren’t lying down. After close-in pressure on the right, the ball was moved to Cullen who floated a peach of a pass over the top to enable Horgan to skate in in the corner. Burke’s convert stayed right of the posts.
But Munster had the taste now. Denis Leamy underlined both his potential and strength when bursting past a couple of defenders before stretching out to ground the ball under pressure.
When Shaun Payne was on the end of good backline interplay to go over for Munster’s third, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Connacht. Cullen was off the leash at this point, but when he ran from deep, the ball went loose on the recycle. Quick turnover ball gave Conor McPhillips a run and he evaded the last tackle to dot down for a try converted by Warwick.
Cullen was irrepressible though, and, struck with a try that had ‘Made in New Zealand’ stamped all over it. Holland made a clean outside break in midfield before Cullen hit a brilliant support line on his inside. A simple pass and Cullen scored under the sticks.
The dog in Connacht however, saw them hit back with a Warwick penalty either side of a short-range Adrian Clarke try to send Connacht into a three-point lead, 27-24, after 65 minutes. Munster rallied and hammered away at the Connacht defensive line, recycling continuously. Not that they were coming especially close. Where Connacht’s defence was unswerving in this period, most of Munster’s running, with the admirable exception of Cullen, also drew the same description.
Eric Elwood came on for Dave Slemen to steady the ship, but surprisingly served time at fullback, rather than outhalf. One little cameo late on, where he threw an overhead dummy to make space for a relieving left-foot kick, stood out and looked like it was the final nail in Munster’s coffin. But referee Nigel Owens’ whistle never came, the clock kept ticking on, and finally Munster managed to extend the Connacht defence to the point where they went offside at a breakdown 22m out and in front of the posts. Burke didn’t need asking twice.
There was a lot for both coaches to feel good about, but Alan Gaffney will be annoyed that two of his players, Gordon McIlwham and Trevor Hogan, spent valuable time in the bin. It might have made all the difference.
Munster; C Cullen; J Kelly, S Payne, J Holland (Henderson), A Horgan; P Burke, M Prendergast; F Roche, J Flannery, G McIlwham; T Bowman (Ryan), T Hogan; S Keogh, D Leamy, J Williams (capt).
J Blaney, E McGovern, D Ryan, J O’Connor, E Reddan, J Storey, R Henderson.
Connacht: 15. David Slemen; 14. Ted Robinson, 13. Matt Mostyn, 12. Niall O’Brien, 11. Conor McPhillips; 10. Paul Warwick, 9. Tom Tierney; 1. Adrian Clarke, 2. John Fogarty, 3. Peter Bracken, 4. Christian Short, 5. Andrew Farley, 6. John Muldoon, 7. Matt Lacey, 8. John O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16.Henry Bourke, 17. Stephen Knoop, 18. Michael Carroll, 19. Paul Neville, 20. Conor O’Loughlin 21. Eric Elwood, 22. Justin Meagher.