Connacht made history this evening as they defeated Munster 18-12 in Thomand Park for the first time in 29 years and producing their first win over Munster in the professional era.
A late try from Bundee Aki was enough to steer Connacht over the line in what was a tight and tense affair in Limerick.
It means that Connacht stay top of the Pro 12 table four points clear of Munster, who must be content with second spot, with Leinster a point further back in third place.
Connacht started brightly in the opening half as they went through the phases inside the Munster half, eventually milking a penalty, which Craig Ronaldson converted giving them a 3-0 lead.
The westerners continued to keep a grip on the game in the early stages and they were rewarded as Tiernan O’Halloran burst through a gap in the Munster defence to dot down to the right of the posts.
Ronaldson converted to bring the score to 10-0 and it was no more than Connacht deserved having played all the rugby in the first 20 minutes of the tie.
Munster struck back with a try of their own through hooker Niall Scannell after a good rolling maul from the home side. Keatley couldn’t convert and meant that Munster trailed Connacht by 10-5.
That was as much as Munster offered in the first half as they were forced to live without possession for long periods, in fact, Connacht had a whopping 77 per cent of possession in the opening 40 minutes.
The western province’s retention of possession forced Munster into making 120 tackles in the first half but perhaps the most telling stat is the 22 tackles that Anthony Foley’s side missed during that period.
In contrast, a dominant Connacht side had to make just 25 tackles in the opening half and will have felt somewhat unfortunate to go into the half-time break with just a five point lead.
The tide turned slightly in the second half as Robin Copeland and CJ Stander began to carry more ball for Munster, making inroads into a disciplined Connacht defensive effort.
Despite the improvement in performance from Munster, it was the boot of Ronaldson that struck first with a penalty from the left after 60 minutes.
Munster upped their game and stretched the Connacht defence to breaking point and eventually the fleet footed Ian Keatley danced his way through the first line of Connacht defenders and offloaded to Andrew Conway, who was tackled without the ball by John Muldoon.
After consultation with the TMO, referee Nigel Whitehouse sin-binned Muldoon and awarded Munster a controversial penalty try, despite the videos showing that scramble defence would probably have halted Conway’s progress.
The resulting conversion left just one point between the teams with all the momentum with Munster and they nearly capitalised on their numerical advantage on the field as Francis Saili made a stunning break on the left before being hauled down. Moments later the ball was lost forward and that was Munster’s last meaningful attack in the game.
Then, with three minutes left on the clock, Robbie Henshaw wrong footed Keith Earls and glided through the Munster defensive line and produced a stunning offload to the on-rushing Bundee Aki who acrobatically managed to touch it down in the corner.
Munster will be left rueing some spurned scoring chances including the decision to go to the corner rather than take a relatively kickable three points.
Connacht were full value for their win having scored two excellent tries and generally being the stronger team throughout the contest.
Munster Tries: N Scannell, Penalty try; Conversion: I Keatley
Connacht Tries: T O’Halloran, B Aki; Conversion: C Ronaldson; Penalties: C Ronaldson (2)
Munster: Andrew Conway; Gerhard van den Heever (Denis Hurley ’51), Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino; Ian Keatley, Tomas O’Leary (Duncan Williams ’66); James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’62), Niall Scannell, BJ Botha (John Ryan ’40); Donnacha Ryan (Dave Foley ’57), Mark Chisholm; CJ Stander (Capt), Jack O’Donoghue, Robin Copeland.
Connacht: Robbie Henshaw; Tieran O’Halloran (Darragh Leader ’69), Bundee Aki, Craig Ronaldson, Matt Healy; AJ MacGinty (Jack Carty ’46), Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley (Ronan Loughney ’55), Shane Delahunt (Dave Heffernan ’62), Nathan White (Finlay Bealham ’59); Ultan Dillane (George Naoupu ’64), Aly Muldowney; John Muldoon (Capt), James Connolly, Eoghan Masterson (Sean O’Brien ’57).