Connacht fall short but push visitors to the wire

Connacht centre Tom Farrell on his way to scoring a first-half try against Munster in Saturday's PRO14 encounter at the Sportsground. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.
Connacht centre Tom Farrell on his way to scoring a first-half try against Munster in Saturday's PRO14 encounter at the Sportsground. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Connacht 24

Munster 31

THE three best teams in PRO14 rugby have now all come to Galway this season and won. Three powerhouses of the sport, Glasgow, Leinster and Munster, and while Connacht can have regrets about the opening day loss to the Scottish side in a game they should have won, they can have little or no complaints about losing the other two ties. In both fixtures, their Irish rivals have fielded superior outfits, overloaded with international calibre talent and proved too strong.

In many ways, Saturday evening’s inter-provincial at a sold out Sportsground wasn’t a fair fight. Munster pretty much selected their Champions Cup 23 for this contest despite the hectic schedule of games. Johan Van Graan held back some firepower on the bench for a second half push if needed (and it was needed) and took a gamble that Connacht wouldn’t be able to match them even allowing for the new surge of confidence within Andy Friend’s squad. It was a sign of intent and respect.

The southern province put all their chips on the table, suspecting that Connacht wouldn’t be in a position to do so after two bruising interprovincial encounters. They were right. Denis Buckley, Sean O’Brien and Jared Butler were all unavailable through injury, Bundee Aki was in need of rest under international player management guidelines and the other long term injuries to the likes of Tiernan O’Halloran and Kieran Marmion didn’t help either.

At some point later in the season, Connacht will get a clear picture of where they stand in the European powerhouse landscape. Perhaps, it will be in the PRO14 play-offs if they get there or maybe in some of those late season games where play-off places will be decided. At that point, the squad as a whole will be a lot clearer on how far they have to go to get to the next level but for the moment, they needn’t dwell on this defeat. Of all the losses in this year’s competition, this one should rank fairly low on the frustration barometer, they could have very few regrets here.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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