Munster 20-17 Connacht: Hosts beat interpro rivals to book place in Pro14 final

Connacht Munster
With both teams boasting an array of internationals, the sides produced a wonderful spectacle in Limerick
Pro14: Munster v Connacht
Munster (7) 20
Tries: Cronin, Haley Cons: Healy, Carbery Pens: Healy, Carbery
Connacht (10) 17
Tries: Healy, Boyle Cons: Carty 2 Pen: Carty

Munster reached the Pro14 final for the first time since 2017 thanks to a 20-17 win over Connacht in a wonderfully entertaining derby.

Matt Healy and James Cronin traded first-half tries as the sides went toe-to-toe at the top of Conference B.

Needing any sort of win to seal top spot, Munster went ahead through a sensational Mike Haley try.

Paul Boyle responded for Connacht but Joey Carbery's penalty gave the hosts the decisive victory.

It means Munster now hold an unassailable 12-point lead at the top of the conference with just two games remaining.

Their opponents for the final on 27 March will be either Leinster or Ulster, who meet in Belfast on Saturday night.

Leinster hold a six-point lead at the top of Conference B so could book their final berth if they secure five points and deny Ulster any losing bonus-points.

Connacht scrap to keep faint hopes alive

Entering the game nine points behind Munster, Connacht knew in reality that even with a win in Limerick they would need a number of results to go their way if they were to overtake their rivals at this late stage of the season.

They began with furious intent and hit the front after five minutes when Healy collected the excellent Jack Carty's looping pass.

With numerous internationals playing for both sides, there were intriguing subplots right across the pitch. Bundee Aki, who was left out of Ireland's matchday squad for their win over Italy, was on his game defensively and produced a brilliant turnover in front of his own line as Connacht absorbed waves of Munster pressure.

Having twice been held up over the line Munster's perseverance finally paid off as Cronin got over from close range.

Where Munster enjoyed the longer spells with good territory, Connacht's work at the breakdown was superb while their defensive line-out totally dominated Munster's set-piece throughout.

Even when they went down to 14 men early in the second half, when Aki was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on, Connacht continued to produce a relentless physical effort.

Haley try
Mike Haley's solo effort broke Connacht's defensive resistance

Their resolve was finally broken in the 58th minute through a moment of individual brilliance from Haley, who took the ball out of the air, created space with a strong fend then executed the perfect chip-and-chase to get beyond Tiernan O'Halloran and put his side ahead for the first time.

Shortly after Connacht responded with a beautiful move of their own, which was illegally disrupted by Chris Cloete under the posts, leaving referee Chris Busby with no choice but to show the flanker a yellow card.

Boyle made use of his side's numerical advantage to dive through a gap as Connacht stretched the Munster defence to level.

However it was Carbery, in only his second appearance since returning from over a year on the sidelines, who slotted a regulation penalty to tilt the game in Munster's favour.

Munster: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, S Daly; B Healy, C Casey; J Cronin, N Scannell, S Archer; F Wycherley, B Holland (C); J O'Donoghue, C Cloete, G Coombes.

Replacements: K O'Byrne, J Loughman, John Ryan, J Kleyn, J O'Sullivan, N McCarthy, J Carbery, D de Allende.

Connacht: T O'Halloran; J Porch, T Daly, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham, U Dillane, G Thornbury, J Butler, C Oliver, P Boyle

Replacements: S Delahunt, M Burke, J Aungier, N Murray, E Masterson, K Marmion, S O'Brien, A Wootton

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