It was a lot to ask of the only game in town that it should start off a new year with a contest of stellar quality.
he portents were good enough: just two points separated them when they met in Limerick in October, in favour of the home team, and the conditions in Galway on Saturday night were OK by kick-off, but what we got was a bad-tempered scrap. Watchable, but hardly compelling.
Connacht will be happy to skip past the entertainment value and focus on the benefit.
They dominated possession from start to finish, and coped well with a first half which they owned everywhere bar the scoreboard. It was only their second win in the last 10 in this fixture.
Not for the first time, the referee got very little job satisfaction from the experience of an Irish interpro.
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These are the big games, so it makes sense for ambitious refs to jump at the chance to handle them, but when the stakes are high, sometimes the behaviour doesn’t match. This was one of those times.
World Rugby have a lot on their plate trying to make the game safer, but maybe they could address the negative effect of on-field celebrations.
There is a culture in rugby now where every other decision that goes your way prompts a volley of roaring aimed at your opponents. People on the receiving end, who are pumped as it is, don’t like this very much. Hey presto, it all kicks off.
Twice in the first half, the vocals and verbals in the face of opponents sparked off bouts of pulling and dragging and barging.
The second, just before the break, had even more afters. Connacht had defended persistent but dull attempts by Munster to barge over against 14 men — Oisín Dowling had been binned for killing a ruck — and when they exploded in celebration at a turnover penalty, referee Chris Busby was in business again.
In the world of politics, you’re told that if you’re explaining you’re losing, and Busby could identify with that.
He was so lenient, calling captains Jack Carty and Jack O’Donoghue in for a series of chats instead of pushing the button after the first briefing session.
He started the second half by binning Ben Healy and Shane Delahunt for their role in a fracas in front of the Clan Stand as the teams left the field at half-time.
If you were a paying spectator, this wasn’t great value for money. If you were watching alongside Andy Farrell, his comments would have been interesting.
The Ireland coach must have tuned in hoping for another big game from Carty. Evidently, Farrell has lost interest in Billy Burns, so Carty’s form and fitness had him as the only viable option for Ireland.
So the sight of him going off with a facial injury wasn’t what Farrell was after.
His duel with Ben Healy had been one of the selling points of the game, but Carty was gone by the break.
At least Farrell got a healthy update on his options at nine. Kieran Marmion is involved in a daily battle with Caolin Blade for the starting shirt in Connacht, so he needed to look good when the opportunity arose. He did.
His opposite number Craig Casey is a player Farrell rates well above Marmion, but it was the Connacht man who dominated.
Whatever about Farrell, this was a huge night for Andy Friend. Not only does his team play rugby that’s mostly good to watch, but it can be winning rugby as well — those two don’t always go together.
Where they struggled was at the breakdown. Munster’s maul was good, but their most effective element was in slowing Connacht. So, despite all the ball, the home attack was frequently under pressure from Munster’s line speed.
Even allowing for that, Connacht’s profligacy in the final quarter of the field was a feature.
The win would have been more comfortable, however, had Chris Busby given Chris Farrell red instead of yellow for a high tackle on Tom Farrell.
It was head on head, absent of malice, but clearly not what World Rugby are looking for in their crusade to lower the tackle height. At least he was consistent, though.
If he was lenient on the puller and draggers earlier on, then he was in the same vein with the Munster centre. Like a fair few involved on the night, if had his time over, he probably would have done a lot differently.