Both Munster and Connacht were hoping to get off to a strong start in 2022 as they faced off in the Sportsground on Saturday.
Neither side were able to take the field over the Christmas period as COVID-19 derailed their derby matches on St Stephen's Day, meaning that this would be the first URC match for both provinces since the start of the Heineken Champions Cup.
While the last time the two teams met was marred by controversy, Connacht came into the match buoyed by how close they came to toppling Munster in Thomond Park.
Connacht looked to speed up play from the beginning of the match, putting pressure on the Munster defence. It was the boot of Jack Carty that got the hosts on the board.
The lead was immediately crossed off by Munster, however, as Ben Healy slotted a penalty shortly after the restart.
With all the play going the way of Connacht, it was a lapse in judgment from Mack Hansen that resulted in a charge down and try for Andrew Conway to put Munster in the lead.
With the momentum swinging in favour of the visitors, Connacht conceded a number of penalties inside their 22m area, resulting in the sin-binning of Oisin Dowling.
However, in spite of Munster being a man up and with all of the momentum, Connacht's defence stood strong and they went into half time just five points behind.
Both sides were down a man before the second half kicked off, however, as Shane Delahunt and Ben Healy were both sent off for an off the ball infringement after the half time whistle.
Connacht were rewarded for their ambition at the end of the match, albeit scoring their only try from the back of a maul through Bundee Aki.
It was Conor Fitzgerald's conversion of Aki's try that would separate the two sides after a very tetchy derby encounter, as Connacht won 10-8.
Connacht Player Ratings
Matthew Burke 6/10
While he was part of a dominant scrum in the first half, Burke added very little to Connacht's play elsewhere on the park. He carried well enough with his limited opportunities, however he seldom looked to add his bulk to the attack while he was on the pitch. Similarly, his entire defensive contributions took place in that five minute period before half time.
Shane Delahunt 6/10
Delahunt will not be looking back on this match as the start to a good year, as his overall performance left a lot to be desired. His throwing at the lineout was inconsistent, while his ball-carrying was often ineffective. He was yellow carded for off the ball aggression after the half time whistle, which is what his performance will be remembered for.
Finlay Bealham 7/10
While the argument could be made that he was fortunate on a few occasions to win the scrum penalties that he did, Bealham was still able to dominate early at scrum time against the Munster front row. He carried well, and was involved heavily in the offloading and passing game that almost opened up the game, before it broke down entirely due to both side's poor discipline.
Ultan Dillane 6.5/10
The 28-year-old lock clearly has one eye on his impending move to France, as his performance against Munster was hit and miss throughout. He was not impactful with his carries, but did link well with the backline, showing off his passing game. He was defensively strong, however Connacht were not asked to make too many tackles for much of the game, other than that five minute period before half time.
Oisin Dowling 7/10
In addition to a key turnover in the first half on his own try line, Dowling was a threat with ball in hand in the tight areas throughout the match. He defended well, however his over-enthusiasm in those five minutes before half time cost him and his team a yellow card.
Cian Prendergast 7.5/10
A well-deserved player of the match, Prendergast was all over the park against Munster. He got under the skin of the visitors with his physicality and breakdown efforts, and added his strength and speed to the carries well as well.
Conor Oliver 7.5/10
The 26-year-old Oliver was bore the brunt of the carrying duties for the loose trio, making the big carries to open up space out wide. He made a great number of tackles over and above his offensive efforts, and was involved in everything good that Connacht put together.
Jarrad Butler 7/10
The powerful number eight carried well throughout the match. He was second only to Oliver in terms of meters made by a forward. However, he will want to improve on defence as he was overly involved in keeping Connacht's tryline secure.
Kieran Marmion 7.5/10
Marmion wanted to speed up play from the beginning and sniped well on the fringes. He was fiery with ball in hand, added pace to the attack with every breakdown, and was unlucky not to cross over the line for a try himself in the second half after a brilliant break.
Jack Carty 6/10
Carty's return from injury was marred by a lack of overall flair and excitement from both sides, as the aggression of the interpro took over the match. While he looked to unlock the Munster defence with some clever passing and offloading, it ultimately led to nothing, and Carty was subbed off shortly before half time with a head injury.
Mack Hansen 6.5/10
Making his first appearance since Connacht's loss to Leinster, Hansen looked electric every touch of the ball, but took a while to find the gaps in the Munster defence. He made a few defensive and overall errors, one of which led directly to the opening try for the visitors. He made up for it shortly before half time, however, when he chased down a full-flight Conway to prevent his second score.
Bundee Aki 7/10
While Connacht could have benefited more from Aki's power in the midfield, the Irish international did defend his channel very well, most notably securing a key turnover in the first half deep inside his own territory. In an usual try for the big centre, he scored the only try of the match for his side by entering the world of the forwards.
Sam Arnold 6/10
Without seeing his name on the teamsheet, one could forgiven for questioning who Connacht's outside centre was against Munster. Arnold was almost non-existent for the hosts on attack, and was seldom tested defensively as Munster struggled to get solid possession out to their backline.
John Porch 6.5/10
With the electric Hansen on the pitch, it is difficult for the winger on the other side to really shine. While Porch did carry for a relatively good number of meters given his few involvements, it was not a night for the Australian Sevens star to write home about.
Tiernan O'Halloran 6/10
O'Halloran was on the pitch for 80 minutes. That is about as far as his involvement in this derby match went as he was hardly ever tested at the back, and only made one run of any significance, in which he gained around six meters after beating a lazy defender.
Munster Player Ratings
Dave Kilcoyne 6/10
The Munster scrum struggled throughout the match, with Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer not meshing together in the front row against a fired up Connacht side. The 33-year-old prop was not seen much with ball in hand, but did put in the work on defence with a solid, if not spectacular performance.
Niall Scannell 7/10
Scannell was a rare shining light at the Sportground for the men in red as he was not only an attacking threat, but a defensive wall as well. His technical abilities at the set pieces might have left something to be desired, but after a game that is best forgotten by all involved, his performance was far from terrible.
Stephen Archer 6.5/10
While he had many of the same issues as Kilcoyne throughout the match, the one area in which Archer stood tall was his defensive efforts, as he made the most tackles out of the tight five. While this does not erase the issues that Munster were having at scrum time, it does improve his rating slightly.
Jean Kleyn 6/10
The big South African-born second rower came out to the Sportsground looking to be physical, unfortunately it was only in the off the ball incidents where this physicality showed. While most enforcer locks do what Kleyn did throughout the match, they often pair it with big defensive hits or powerful carries (most often both). However, Kleyn only really managed to make his tackles throughout the match, in stead of putting Connacht on the back foot with each hit.
Fineen Wycherley 6.5/10
Wycherley made the most tackles out of anyone on the pitch. That alone is a standout statistic for the 24-year-old second rower. However, his inability to ad anything at all on attack cost him and his team in the long run, and with the mis-firing Munster set piece partly his and Kleyn's problem, it will not be the way he would have liked to start 2022.
Jack O'Donoghue 7/10
O'Donohgue would have been a decent candidate for player of the match had his Munster side earned a victory. However, he was still one of the better performers for the losing side, through his strong carries, heavy defensive shift and work at the breakdown. O'Donoghue tried to be involved in everything for Munster.
Alex Kendellen 6.5/10
The 20-year-old was always looking for the turnover at the breakdown, and while he was pinged a few times by the referee, he won his fair share of penalties along the way. He was second only to Wycherley in the defensive stats as well, however, much like the lock, he will want to improve his efforts on attack.
Gavin Coombes 7.5/10
It took until the second half for Coombes to properly get into the match, with his first big carry coming after half time. However, once he got that first carry out of the way, Coombes racked up the most running meters for his side, and was second only to Marmion for meters made throughout the match. He also added his physicality to the rugged defence of Munster, which kept Connacht out of the tryline for most of the match.
Craig Casey 6.5/10
While he tried to take his opportunity starting in place of Conor Murray, Casey struggled behind a slow ruck at times, while he also made a number of poor decisions from the back of the breakdown as well. It was not an overall poor performance from the young half back, however it was not at the level that we have come to expect from the usually exciting scrum half.
Ben Healy 6/10
While Healy's aggression was good to see throughout the match, it ultimately cost his side as they went down a man for the first 10 minutes of the second half. The usually reliable kicker left six points on the field, and was never really able to get into the match from an attacking standpoint.
Shane Daly 6.5/10
With eight tackles, Daly was one of the better defenders on the pitch, which says something about the state of the match overall. He marked Hansen well, and was the reason that Conway got in to score the first try of the match.
Damian de Allende 6/10
It was not the best day in red for the Springbok, as he rarely touched the ball, and was not heavily involved in any other capacity throughout the match.
Chris Farrell 5.5/10
Many might question whether Farrell's yellow card should have been a red card, however it was not his biggest failing against Connacht. While he is usually known for his powerful defence, the 28-year-old centre missed almost as many tackles as he made, and was nowhere on attack, not that De Allende ever got him the ball to use anyway.
Andrew Conway 7/10
Conway scored against the run of play, but showed good composure to dot down after the charge down. He looked dangerous with ball in hand, wanting to add to his try tally before half time. In a match that most will want to forget, Conway will at least be happy to have found the tryline again.
Mike Haley 7/10
In contrast to O'Halloran, Haley at least looked for work when it was not coming his way. He charged down Carty in the first half, and was one of the more attacking players for Munster throughout the match.
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