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Bill Johnston Boots Munster ‘A’ To Opening Victory
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Bill Johnston Boots Munster ‘A’ To Opening Victory

Bill Johnston Boots Munster ‘A’ To Opening Victory

Munster ‘A’ made a winning start to the new Celtic Cup development competition as they got the better of their Connacht counterparts, prevailing 24-16 in a hard-fought game at Irish Independent Park.

Photo Gallery: Munster 'A' 24 Connacht Eagles 16

First half tries from Liam Coombes and James Hart along with four penalties and a conversion from Bill Johnston clinched the win for Munster 'A', who trailed 13-5 at one stage after a Colm de Buitléar try and the accurate kicking of Conor Fitzgerald, the former Munster Academy out-half.

Fitzgerald's debut for Connacht Eagles should have seen him facing his older brother Stephen but he was a late withdrawal for Munster 'A'. Alex Wootton shifted to the full-back position and Academy youngster Liam Coombes was promoted from the bench to the left wing.

Former Munster favourite Mossy Lawler, the Eagles head coach, watched on as his charges got off to a stronger start and they hit the front with a long range sixth-minute penalty from Fitzgerald. They were nearly over for a try moments later when Kieran Joyce's clever cross-field kick just evaded Rory Scholes and bounced into touch.

Munster 'A' enjoyed their first spell of dominance as the game neared the 10-minute mark with a superb Matt More offload releasing Wootton but the full-back's final pass was spoiled by the retreating Connacht Eagles defence.

The Munster 'A' pack kept the pressure on and were finally rewarded on 17 minutes as the ball was moved left and good hands saw the 21-year-old Coombes dive over in the left corner. Out-half Johnston's conversion attempt came back off the post.

Connacht Eagles were awarded a kickable penalty in the 22nd minute and elected to go for the corner, yet excellent work from the Munster 'A' forwards repelled the attack. The respite was brief, however, as a slick back-line move saw Darragh Leader send An Ghaeltacht product Colm de Buitléar over in the left corner for a neatly-crafted try. Fitzgerald's conversion gave the visitors a 10-5 lead.

Strong work at the breakdown from replacement Dan Walsh won Munster 'A' a vital turnover approaching half-time as the westerners looked to extend their lead, but a second long range Fitzgerald penalty widened the margin to eight points.

A brilliantly-timed Johnston pass led to a searing break from Wootton as Munster 'A' got back on the front foot just before the interval. Centres Alex McHenry and More then combined superbly to send scrum half Hart over for a second Munster 'A' try on the stroke of half-time. Johnston added the extras to make it a one-point game – 13-12.

Again, Lawler's Connacht side made the quicker start to the second half with Fitzgerald's third successful penalty punishing a breakdown infringement to give the Eagles a 16-12 lead. Crucially, Johnston was swift with his response, nailing his first penalty attempt in the 50th minute.

An intelligent intercept and hack downfield from number 8 Gavin Coombes got Munster 'A' back on the attack minutes later, and when the retreating Eagles defence conceded a penalty, Johnston put the men in red back in front with his second well-struck three-pointer.

The hosts' defence was well organised and sturdy as the Eagles looked to strike, and a Dan Walsh break from a ruck got Peter Malone's men back into the right area of the pitch. Allied to a strong impact from the Munster 'A' bench, Johnston's third penalty goal after a Connacht offside made it 21-16 as the rain began to fall for the final 12 minutes.

The Munster 'A' kicking game was forcing mistakes and Johnston completed his 14-point haul on 75 minutes to make it 24-16. Connacht Eagles kept going and Munster 'A' captain Darren O'Shea was sin-binned for his part in stopping a rolling maul, but the 14-man defence held on to clinch an eight-point success.

Referee: Jonny Erskine (IRFU)

Lineups Scorers

Match Lineups

Home Team

Alex Wootton; Calvin Nash, Matt More, Alex McHenry, Liam Coombes; Bill Johnston, James Hart; Jeremy Loughman, Diarmuid Barron, Ciaran Parker, Darren O'Shea (capt), Sean O'Connor, Jack Daly, John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements used: Dan Walsh for Daly (28 mins), Sean French for Nash, Cronan Gleeson for Loughman (both 44), Jack Stafford for Hart (54), Ben Healy for Johnston, Keynan Knox for Parker (both 75), Billy Scannell for Barron (79). Not used: Evan Mintern.

Away Team

Darragh Leader; Rory Scholes, Kieran Joyce, Peter Robb, Colm de Buitléar; Conor Fitzgerald, James Mitchell; Matthew Burke, Tom McCartney (capt), Conor Carey, Peter Claffey, Joe Maksymiw, Cillian Gallagher, Cian Huxford, Mikey Wilson.

Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Jordan Duggan, Conor Kenny, Cormac Daly, Neal Moylett, Conor McKeon, Conor Dean, Sean O'Brien.

Match Scorers

Home Team

Tries: Liam Coombes, James Hart; Con: Bill Johnston; Pens: Bill Johnston 4

Away Team

Try: Colm de Buitléar; Con: Conor Fitzgerald: Pens: Conor Fitzgerald 3