Ireland Sevens star Alex Wootton weighed in with the match-winning try for Garryowen in a tense 23-19 Munster derby victory over Cork Constitution at Dooradoyle.
There was drama at the start and finish as the third-placed Light Blues maintained their unbeaten form since returning to the top flight. Young full-back Alex Wootton's try, seven minutes into injury-time, saw them prevail and also pick up a bonus point.
It was a notable win for Garryowen against their oldest adversaries to get their season up and running in sunny conditions. On the other hand, Constitution will again rue missed opportunities as they had to settle for a losing bonus point.
Making four personnel changes from last week's drawn game with Lansdowne, Cork Con conceded three tries to the enthusiastic home side in the first quarter. Wootton's Munster Academy colleague Shane McMahon scored in the left corner after just three minutes.
Influential scrum half Neil Cronin grabbed the second in the ninth minute in the same corner to give Conan Doyle's men a tonic start. It got even better for the Light Blues in the 16th minute as McMahon ran onto a punt by player-coach Doyle to score out wide again.
Tomas Quinlan (pictured above), another of the Munster Academy brigade on show, had given Constitution some hope with a 14th minute penalty, and he added the extras to a try by flanker James Murphy in the 34th minute following a lineout. Constitution continued their fight-back and young out-half Quinlan was again on target in the 38th minute with a penalty to reduce the arrears to 15-13 by half-time.
Winger James Frawley took over the kicking duties for Garryowen and slotted a penalty in the 44th minute to give his side a five-point advantage and a solid start to the second period.
However, Quinlan kicked two penalties on 53 and 73 minutes as Constitution, with Munster prop John Ryan leading by example up front and Brian Hayes and Luke Cahill providing regular lineout ball, gained a measure of supremacy to lead 19-18.
Persistent infringements had Garryowen lose JP Phelan and Aaron McCloskey to the sin-bin, and the 14-point Quinlan was unfortunate to see a 70th minute effort come back off a post.
However, true to the Garryowen's fighting spirit, they battled right to the end. As Constitution's discipline failed with two late yellow cards for Niall Kenneally and Liam O'Connell, the hosts seized control and backed themselves to get the bonus point try, turning down a couple of penalty shots at the posts.
The Garryowen backs chipped away at the Cork Con defence in a series of attacks in and around the 22, and their persistence finally paid off when the pacy Wootton (pictured below) zipped through a gap out wide on the left and made it over in the corner, much to the delight of the home support.
Garryowen's Kiwi number 8 and captain Josh Hrstich told the Irish Examiner: “Before the game, we spoke about how Con have beaten us narrowly in recent seasons and to come away with a win in the last minute makes up for a lot of that.
“We have a huge amount of respect for them and they'd probably say the same about us. Our decision to kick for touch at the finish shows the belief we have in our squad. I had a gut feeling that we were good enough to get the try and the bonus point which is huge for us.
“We're a tight-knit group, a tight-knit club, and very proud to be back up here in the top division. We also conceded silly yellow cards last year but always kept fighting and fighting and when those guys come back on, they know they have to work extremely hard to make it up to us.”
Referee: Sean Gallagher (IRFU)