Ian Keatley complimented his sparkling kicking display with a match-winning defensive showing as Munster held on for a much-deserved 16-12 inter-provincial victory over Connacht.
A ten-point swing in favour of the visitors, which included Connacht’s Jason Harris-Wright being sent to the bin, during a crazy last five minutes of the first half proved crucial in this RaboDirect PRO 12 encounter.
Connacht had previously beaten Ulster, Harlequins, Leinster and Biarritz in Galway this year and were searching for a clean sweep of victories over Irish opposition in 2012.
And Dan Parks got them off to a good start after ten minutes after good work from Mike McCarthy in the lineout set up a rolling maul for the hosts which earned a penalty that the fly-half made.
However Munster were on level terms six minutes later when Keatley converted a penalty – the fly-half had pinned Connacht in the corner and after claiming the line-out, Munster were awarded a penalty just short of the line.
Failing to roll away from an attacking Connacht ruck, Tommy O’Donnell gifted Parks another opportunity at three points on 23 minutes – one that he took after he had missed with an impulsive drop-goal attempt.
It looked as if the hosts were then destined to score the first try of the game as Fetu’u Vainikolo intercepted a Johne Murphy pass and streaked clear but Keatley had the pace to catch and drag the Tongan out of play.
Then late on in the first half, Harris-Wright was sent to the bin for not releasing under pressure and, with a man missing in the scrum, Connacht were reeling and conceded a penalty try. Converted by Keatley.
And taking further advantage of the extra man, Keatley managed to snatch a penalty with the half’s last action from halfway, giving his side a 13-6 advantage.
It didn’t get any better for the hosts after half-time either as from the kick-off scrum-half Keiran Marmion hesitated at the breakdown, a mistake that lead to his forwards conceding a penalty. Keatley again was accurate with the boot.
Parks responded however as Donncha O’Callaghan was penalised for not rolling away to bring his side within a converted try just five minutes into the second half with Harris-Wright returning to the action.
And the Australian-born Scottish fly-half continued to dominate proceedings when he followed up an accurate 22 drop-out, which went to Eoin McKeon who burst through, with a drop goal from 25 yards out. Connacht were now trailing by just four.
It was then Munster’s turn to have a spell down to 14 men when James Downey received a yellow for a high tackle on McCarthy but Parks importantly missed the resulting penalty.
Inside the last ten minutes and Connacht were heaping pressure on their opponents. Finding themselves ten metres short of the line the ball was spread to George Naoupu whose attempt at touching down was referred to the TMO.
But upon review Peter Stringer’s last-ditch dive seemed to have put off the big second row who had slid out into touch before grounding the ball.
With two minutes to play Munster conceded a penalty for offside and, with three points no good to them, Connacht took a quick tap and searched for the decisive score.
But a sloppy pass to Eoin Griffin left the outside-centre isolated and after conceding the penalty Keatley sealed the victory for Munster by sending the ball high into the stands with time up.