Munster edge a tight affair against Connacht
Ian Keatley's kicking was impressive despite some very poor conditions19:21 Saturday 31 December 2016, 19:21 31 Dec 2016
It was a wet, windy and cold night at the Sportsgrounds in Galway which, for the large part, had an effect on the type of game both sides were able to play.
With the rain belting down sideways and the wind whipping at the players, the ball proved too difficult to hold on to with any consistency, so it was down to the kickers to provide much of the entertainment.
With only a few minutes on the clock, Ian Keatley stepped up to get the scoreboard moving with a well struck penalty, giving Munster the lead.
Chances were few and far between for the rest of the half, as Jerry Flannery noted when speaking to TG4 during the game, citing his concern that Connacht could get around the edges and cause them problems if they were allowed to play too much rugby and stretch the pitch.
Munster didn't afford them those opportunities with some good line speed, and sent them looking for points from Jack Carty's boot. After missing his first chance, he obliged on his second opportunity, pulling the sides level. Keatley popped up again just before the half-time break to make it 6-3 to the visitors, a scoreline which said more about the conditions than the quality of the two teams.
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie
It was much of the same for large parts of the second half; Keately's first effort fell short against the wind, while Carty returned fire to draw the sides level again.
Connacht began to look a bit more adventurous, trying to up the pace and probe the Munster defence a little bit, but the final pass eluded them on a slippy surface. Unable to move the ball through the hands as they would normally like, it was a night to go back to basics.
That's exactly what Munster did in order to find the first and only try of the game, using a lineout smartly and going to a maul, forcing their way over with Rhys Marshall the one to touch down.
It was an awkward angle to make the conversion but it appeared that it was Keatley's night. Not only was he on form from the tee, but his vision to create space also relieved the pressure and set up attacks for the Munster men.
With the clock ticking towards the 70 minute mark, he added another three with a drop goal to extend his side's advantage to 16-6, making sure of the result and easing the pressure given Dave Kilcoyne was sent to the bin late on.
Image: Connacht's Niyi Adeolokun and Tiernan O’Halloran in the rain
With that man advantage, Connacht once again went looking for the space behind Munster's defence, and almost got there with a crossfield kick. Again, the conditions played their part and Matt Healy could just not bring the ball down without knocking on.
Dudley Phillips had played the advantage, and Carty kicked between the posts to narrow the gap with the clock ticking down. Pat Lam's men were unable to get back out of their own half again, however, despite going through the phases after the 80 minute mark.
Neither side were able to play the type of rugby that they would have liked, but Munster ground out the victory in a match of tight margins, giving them breathing space at the top of the PRO 12 as they head in to 2017.
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