It was a familiar feeling at the Sportsground on Monday evening as Munster reasserted their dominance over Connacht with a typically defiant victory over their western neighbours.
The result leaves Connacht stuck second to last in the Magners League table with only the winless Italian newcomers Aironi behind them in the table and a trip to the RDS awaiting on New Years Day to take on high flying Leinster (Ko: 5:30 ).
Without reaching top gear and missing a host of frontline players, Munster sprung into action midway though the second half - when they trailed by six - upping the tempo and digging out a try from nowhere from Tom Gleeson with Ronan O’Gara’s touchline conversion giving them a 13-12 advantage.
The score came at the end of a sustained attack on the Connacht line that appeared to be going nowhere but after Connacht seemed to have forced a turnover Munster regained possession and hacked down in the corner for Gleeson to catch the home defence on the wrong foot and sprint to the line.
It proved to be a defining moment, O’Gara struck a drop goal soon after to stretch the lead to four before Connacht finished the game with a flourish creating three golden opportunities to score the winning try.
Ian Keatley and Darragh Fanning combined to blow the first opportunity with the former releasing the pass too early when a try seemed certain. Fanning then hesitated at the crucial moment with another try in the offing minutes later and then game the end game drama.
Connacht secured a penalty after Fanning was stopped short and went for the scrum with Niall Ronan being sin binned for good measure. The clock had ticked over the eighty and this was now very much the final play.
In keeping with their complete dominance in that area throughout the game, the home side drove the Munster pack backwards and were heading for a try with Mike McComish in control at the base only for the visitors to collapse.
The penalty was given and with replacement Dave Ryan struggling it was some relief for Munster that he suffered an injury in that scrum allowing the far more composed William Du Preez back on to steady the scrum.
Head coach Elwood was fuming about this afterwards although his counterpart Tony McGahan dismissed any doubts about the injury. The Munster scrum stood up to the next two scrums an Connacht were forced wide and the Munster defence held firm until a knock on by Keatley brought the last gasp home attack to a close.
Exhausted home players collapsed to their knees as they had fallen short in yet another tight game. They had only themselves to blame with golden opportunities wasted in those closing stages.
They had led 6-3 at half time with Keatley slotting two long range penalties and a fairly subdued O’Gara kicking one for the visitors. After half time Keatley kicked two more either side of a reply from the Munster ten and Connacht had a 12-6 lead with a strong impression that their defence was ready to withstand any onslaught.
The try when it came was a scrappy score rather than a well created one but it stemmed from a much stronger sense of urgency in the visiting side. Even the loss of talisman Alan Quinlan to a serious looking elbow injury didn’t quell their determination and that impressive attitude by a young Munster side proved the difference.
Paddy Butler at number eight performed brilliantly, the 20 year old was in at the deep end but excelled, Mike Sherry is a good prospect at hooker although some lineouts went array while Ian Nagle in the second row demonstrated why he is such an exciting prospect.
The task now for the men from the west is to regroup in a short five day turnaround and take on Leinster who will also be short of some key front line players.
However, even with a much improved performance he run of seven straight defeats is likely to be extended and on current form it’s hard to see where the next win will come from. These are tough times for the misfiring westerners.
CONNACHT: T Nathan; D Fanning, N Ta’auso, K Matthews, F Carr; I Keatley, C Willis; R Sweeney, S Cronin, J Hagan; M Swift, M McCarthy; A Browne, J O’Connor, E Taylor.
Replacements: M McComish for Taylor (40 mins ); D Rogers for Sweeney (68 mins ); B Upton for O’Connor (80 mins ).
MUNSTER: P Warwick; B Murphy, T Gleeson, L Mafi, D Hurley; R O’Gara, P Stringer; W du Preez, M Sherry, P Borlase; Donnacha Ryan, I Nagle; A Quinlan, N Ronan, P Butler.
Replacements: B Holland for Quinlan (47 mins ); J Hayes for Borlase, T O’Donnell for Butler (both 55 mins ); Dave Ryan for du Preez (72 mins ); du Preez for Dave Ryan (80 mins ). Yellow card: Ronan (79 mins ).
Referee: D Wilkinson (IRFU ).