Connacht No Problem For Mighty Munster
Munster travel to The Sportsground in Galway on New Year’s Day on the back of a thrilling 28-13 win over Leinster on St. Stephen’s Day but can they repeat that performance against Connacht?
After finishing tenth in the Pro 12 last season, Connacht are faring better in their second season under Pat Lam. They kicked off their league campaign with three straight wins and although they have lost four since, they are still in the top half of the table. A recent run of four wins in all competitions came to an end with a hard-fought defeat at Leinster and a narrow three-point loss at Ulster.
Munster made a slow start to the season but a morale boosting victory over Leinster, kick-started a run of five consecutive wins that took them to the top of the table. Their mini-winning streak came to an end against Clermont in the European Cup, and defeat to Glasgow saw them drop to third in the Pro12 table, but they steadied the ship last time out by completing a rare double over Leinster.
Connacht were already missing several players, including back row Eoin McKeon, and wingers Tiernan O’Halloran, and Fionn Carr, and their injury list lengthened to twelve after the game in Belfast with the last minute withdrawals of Ronan Loughney and Quinn Roux. The good news is that second row Andrew Browne is in line to return against Munster following his recovery from a knee injury.
Munster are still without key players such as Donnacha Ryan, Damien Varley, Mike Sherry, Keith Earls, Cian Bohane and Gerhard van den Heever, but they will be boosted by the return of some or all of their international contingent this week. Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, and Peter O’Mahony were all rested for the Leinster tie but could be available against Connacht.
Connacht are the weakest of the Irish sides in the Pro12 and have lost thirteen of their last fourteen all-Ireland matches, so it is not surprising to find that they have a poor recent record against Thursday’s opponents.
In fact, Connacht’s struggles in this fixture go back nearly three decades, having beaten Munster once since 1986.
At their last meeting at the Sportsground in April, Connacht matched their opponents for the first half hour, but two tries in the space of five minutes before half time saw Munster take control of the game and they earned a comfortable 32-23 victory.
A top six finish is not out of the question for a greatly improved Connacht side and they emerged with plenty of credit from their latest two games against Leinster and Ulster. But for all their endeavour, they didn’t win either match and I can’t see them overcoming Munster, probably the strongest of the four Irish sides in the Pro12 right now and likely to be strengthened by the return of some international stars.
The home side will make it a tough afternoon for the visitors but I expect Munster to prevail. Back them in the Match Betting market.