MUNSTER stretched their winning run in all competitions to nine games, thanks to a fully-deserved 22-16 RaboDirect PRO12 victory over Connacht in a sometimes bad-tempered affair at a wet and windy Thomond Park.
Out-half JJ Hanrahan bagged all 22 of Munster’s points, including a smashing first half try, to help Rob Penney’s men retain top spot in the PRO12.
Munster’s victory was all the more remarkable as it was achieved by a side showing 14 changes from that which scored a dramatic late victory over the Scarlets just six days earlier. Out-half Hanrahan was the only survivor from that game.
This win will provide Munster with a timely boost in confidence ahead of their demanding fixture against Ulster at Ravenhill on Friday next, January 3 at 7.05pm.
The night was a memorable one for Young Munster RFC players Ger Slattery and Alan Cotter who made their Munster debuts at senior level when introduced as second half replacements.
Hanrahan drove Munster to a 13-6 half-time lead with his opposite number Dan Parks bagging three penalties for Connacht.
The RaboDirect PRO12 leaders relied on three more Hanrahan kicks to see them home, although Connacht fought tenaciously for a deserved losing bonus point - replacement hooker David Heffernan dotted down in the third minute of injury-time with Parks adding the all-important conversion.
Trailing by seven points at the break, things went from bad to worse for Connacht as Frank Murphy’s sin-binning for tackling James Cronin without the ball gifted another three points to Hanrahan.
The margin was 13 points by the 50th minute as Hanrahan kicked a further straightforward penalty after respective props Cronin and Nathan White had been sin-binned, although the Munster loosehead appeared far more sinned against than sinning.
However, Connacht, who have now lost their last 10 meetings with Munster, did salvage that losing bonus point at the death through a well-executed converted try.
SCORERS: Munster: JJ Hanrahan try, con, five pens. Connacht: Dave Heffernan try, Dan Parks con, three pens.
MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Keith Earls, Johne Murphy, James Downey, Ronan O’Mahony; JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, David Foley, Paddy Butler, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan (capt). Replacements used: Ger Slattery, Alan Cotter, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, CJ Stander, Gerry Hurley, Johnny Holland, Ivan Dineen.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Dan Parks, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White, Michael Kearney, Craig Clarke (capt), Andrew Browne, John Muldoon, Eoin McKeon. Replacements used: David Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Aly Muldowney, George Naoupu, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Darragh Leader.
REFEREE: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)