TABLE toppers Munster secured their first win at the Sportsground in three seasons when easing past Connacht 16-9 in their Guinness PRO12 clash on New Year’s Eve.
A second half try from new Zealand hooker Rhys Marshall following a well-executed maul proved key in Munster’s gritty victory secured in filthy, wet and windy conditions in Galway.
Man of the Match Ian Keatley, who steered Munster to victory confidently from the pivotal out-half berth, added a terrific conversion in the windy conditions.
Keatley contribited 11 points in all as Munster recorded a timely win ahead of their re-arranged Champions Cup clash with Racing 92 in Paris on Saturday next.
Two Keatley penalties saw Munster build auseful 6-3 interval lead in the unrelenting wind and rain, with Jack Carty landing Connacht’s points through a penalty goal.
Carty's third successful penalty secured a losing bonus point for Connacht and although Dave Kilcoyne and Duncan Williams were both sin-binned, Munster doggedly held on to secure a 10th league win this season.
After the game, Munster reported that Tommy O'Donnell, who had to be replaced, is nursing an ankle injury and will need to be assessed over the next 48 hours
PRO12 pacesetters Munster start 2017 with a five-point lead second-placed Leinster, while the Ospreys, with a game in hand, sit third in the table six points off Rassie Erasmus’ side.
Munster, with 11 changes to their starting XV from the side which thumped Leinster on St Stephen’s Day were handing Connacht their first defeat in seven games in Galway.
SCORERS: Connacht: Jack Carty three pens; Munster: Rhys Marshall try, Ian Keatley two pens, drop goal, con.
CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Rory Parata, Peter Robb, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham; Quinn Roux, James Cannon; Nepia Fox-Matamua, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon (capt). Replacements: Dave Heffernan, JP Cooney, John Andress, Lewis Stevenson, Sean O'Brien, Caolin Blade, Ciaran Gaffney, Naulia Dawai.
MUNSTER: Andrew Conway; Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Dan Goggin, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Dave Foley; Billy Holland (capt), Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue. Replacements: Dave Kilcoyne, Kevin O’Byrne, Thomas Du Toit, Robin Copeland, Conor Oliver, Te Aihe Toma, Rory Scannell, Jaco Taute.