Six points from three games isn’t a bad return for Connacht from their Christmas inter-provincial endeavours. They can honestly feel they moved the project forward even if the last 20 minutes of this contest on Saturday were very much a negative number in the ledger. This was Munster at their ruthless best against their depleted opponents as they turned a tight encounter into a five try drubbing in no time at all.
It’s hard to remember an inter-provincial fixture in the professional era where Connacht had to rest this many key front-line players. Bundee Aki, Kieran Marmion and Ultan Dillane are now firmly established in the Joe Schmidt camp and are managed accordingly, like all their Irish teammates, they had to see a week off somewhere over the Christmas period and this was the game Kieran Keane chose.
The Connacht coach didn’t stop there, Eoghan Masterson had gone through a mountain of work in the previous four weeks and was rested too along with two more who had seen a lot of action in the shape of Tom Farrell and Finlay Bealham. With a key Challenge Cup trip to Worcester on the horizon and the PRO14 primary objective unlikely to suffer as a result of this loss, Keane is hoping that this management of resources will keep them on track on both fronts.
For 50 minutes it looked as though the whole plan was coming together perfectly. Connacht had frustrated Munster to that point, they trailed by just four points and were seemingly in charge in terms of set piece play, their scrum was completely dominant and two early second half line-out steals suggested Munster were really feeling the heat after consecutive defeats to Leinster and Ulster.
The turning point in the contest involved some questionable officiating from David Wilkinson and his crew but to focus heavily on his call against John Muldoon that led to three points (where he appeared on his feet and first defender into the contest) or the decision to award Andrew Conway’s try (where a knock on seemed more likely) would serve only to muddy the waters here.
Full report in this week’s Connacht Tribune.