Munster A made the perfect start to the Celtic Cup with an extremely hard-fought win over Connacht at Irish Independent Park on Friday evening.
First-half tries from Liam Coombes and James Hart along with four penalties and a conversion from Bill Johnston clinched the win.
Darren O’Shea captained Munster with 11 Greencore Munster Rugby Academy players included along with a number of senior and club players.
A late change for Munster saw Stephen Fitzgerald drop out of the squad. Alex Wootton moved to full-back and Liam Coombes was promoted from the bench to the wing with Sean French taking his place among the replacements.
The Connacht Eagles made a strong start and led after six minutes thanks to former Munster Academy out-half Conor Fitzgerald’s long-range penalty.
The visitors were very nearly over for the first try moments later when Kieran Joyce’s clever crossfield kick just evaded Rory Scholes and bounced into touch.
Munster enjoyed their first spell of dominance as the game neared the 10-minute mark with a superb Matt More offload releasing Alex Wootton but the full-back’s final pass was spoiled by the retreating Connacht defence.
The Munster forward pack kept the pressure on and were finally rewarded on 17 minutes as the ball was moved left and good hands saw Coombes dive over in the left corner. Bill Johnston’s conversion came back off the post and Munster led 5-3.
Connacht were awarded a kickable penaly on 22 minutes and elected to go for the corner but excellent work from the Munster pack repelled the attack. The respite was brief however as a slick backline move saw Darragh Leader send Colm de Buitléar over in the left corner for Connacht’s first try. Fitzgerald’s conversion gave the visitors a 10-5 lead.
Strong work at the breakdown from replacement Dan Walsh won Munster a vital turnover before the break as Connacht looked to extend their lead but a second long-range Fitzgerald penalty gave the visitors a 13-5 half-time lead.
A brilliantly-timed Johnston pass led to a searing break from Wootton as Munster got back on the front foot before the break. Centre pairing Alex McHenry and Matt More then combined superbly to send Hart over for a second Munster try on the stroke of half-time. Johnston’s penalty made it a one-point game as Connacht led 13-12 at the break.
The visitors made the quicker start to the second half with Fitzgerald’s third penalty punishing a Munster breakdown infringement to give Connacht a 16-12 lead.
Johnston’s first penalty attempt on 50 minutes was good as Munster reduced the gap to a point with the game evenly poised as we entered the final half hour.
An intelligent intercept and hack down the field from no.8 Gavin Coombes got Munster back on the attack minutes later and when the retreating Coonacht defence conceded a penalty, Johnston put Munster back in front with his second well-struck three-pointer.
The Munster defence was well organised and sturdy as Connacht looked to strike with a Dan Walsh break from a ruck getting Munster back into the right area of the park.
A strong impact from the Munster bench kept the hosts in the ascendancy and a third Johnston penalty after a Connacht offside made it 21-16 as the rain began to fall for the final 12 minutes.
The Munster kicking game was forcing mistakes and Johnston added his fourth penalty on 75 minutes to make it 24-16. Connacht kept going and Munster captain O’Shea was sin-binned for his part in stopping a rolling maul but the 14-man defence held on to clinch the 24-16 victory.
See more details on The Celtic Cup here.
Celtic Cup Fixtures & Results
Munster A 24-16 Connacht Eagles, Irish Independent Park
Saturday, September 15
Ospreys v Munster, Swansea RFC, 2pm
Friday, September 21
Munster v Dragons, Irish Independent Park, 5.30pm
Saturday, September 29
Cardiff Blues v Munster, Cardiff Arms Park, 2pm
Friday, October 5
Munster v Scarlets, Irish Independent Park, 7.30pm
W/E of October 12, 13, 14
Leinster v Munster, details TBC