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Munster Close The Gap

December 4, 2006 12:00 am By Munster Rugby

Munster Close The Gap

Leading six nil at half time thanks to two Ronan O’Gara penalties Munster closed the deal late in the second half when Christian Cullen scored a try following a decisive Trevor Halstead break.

Munster closed the gap on Connacht to just a single point with would have to be described as a workmanlike rather than a wonderful performance in adverse conditions at Thomond Park. Given the conditions, the quality of the opposition and the fact that Munster’s international brigade were back after a five week absence, Munster can be well pleased with themselves.

Just as the Munster team arrived on the pitch the PA Announcer on behalf of the Munster team and management, thanked the supporters who had turned up in their thousands for braving the awful conditions. It was a worthy gesture because given the conditions, the size of the crowd (5000+) was a fitting testament to the importance of the game and the ability of both sides.

Connacht started off the day five points clear of the home side and weren’t long about forcing Munster onto the back foot, Mark McHugh and Paul Warwick giving the Munster defence plenty to think abaout. They did have the advantage of the wind but it was Munster who scored first, Ronan O’Gara knocking over a penalty in the 15th minute when Connacht were penalised for backchat.

By that stage Barry Murphy had been replaced by Trevor Halstead and the former Springboks made the incursion that caused Connacht infringe and allow O’Gara score from in front of the posts.

Six nil down and facing into the wind, at the start of the second half, Connacht made light of such adversity and produced the better performance. They put together some excellent continuity phases that had Munster defending desperately.

On one occasion when Munster did manage to establish a foothold in Connacht territory, O’Gara was just narrowly wide with a 35 metre penalty and the gap remained at six as the game entered the final quarter.
During this period Connacht launched a series of assaults on the Munster line but were held out and when Munster eventually lifted the siege, they once again made the most of their opportunity, the outstanding Halstead making the hard yards, Lifeimi Mafi carrying on and delivering the scoring pass to Christian Cullen.

O’Gara knocked over the conversion but to their Connacht came back downfield looking to salvage something. Once again Munster’s disciplined defence denied them a point which was the very least their performance deserved.

MUNSTER: C Cullen; J Kelly, B Murphy, L Mafi, A Horgan; R O’Gara, T O’Leary; D Hurley, F Sheahan, F Pucciariello; D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (capt); A Quinlan, D Wallace, D Leamy. Replacements: T Halstead for Murphy (8 mins), J Hayes for Hurley (half-time); T McGann for Wallace (47 mins), Hurley for Pucciariello (67 mins), P Stringer for Kelly (72 mins), A Kyriacou for Sheahan, C Wyatt for O’Connell, J Manning for O’Gara (all 81 mins).

CONNACHT: D Riordan; C McPhillips, P Warwick, K Matthews, D Yapp; M McHugh, C Keane; R Hogan, J Fogarty (capt), S Knoop; D Gannon, A Farley; J Muldoon, R Ofisa, C Rigney. Replacements: B Wilkinson for Hogan (19 mins), B O’Connor for Knoop (57 mins), R Strudwick for Gannon (62 mins), C O’Loughlin for Keane (65 mins), A Flavin for Fogarty (67 mins), J Hearty for Matthews, G Williams for McHugh (both 72 mins).

Referee: D Courtney (IRFU).

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