No less than eight Buccaneers players were named in the Connacht squad that took on Munster in their top of the table Guinness PRO14 clash at Thomond Park on Friday night. Jack Carty and Tiernan O’Halloran lined out in the backline with Paul Boyle, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham starting in the pack. Eoghan Masterson and Shane Delahunt were sprung from the replacements bench while young Niall Murray was an unused substitute.

This was a must-win encounter for Connacht who trailed the hosts by nine points on the Conference league table and they got off to a flying start, a sublime skipped pass by Carty finished off by Matt Healy for an early try which the outhalf converted from wide on the left. A Carty penalty gave the westerners a 10-7 halftime lead that could have been greater.

In the third quarter Connacht suffered a debatable yellow card when Bundee Aki’s attempted intercept was deemed by TMO Joy Neville to be deliberate. Aki had his eyes on the ball and had he held on to it he was surely scampering away for a try. In this viewer’s opinion, it was not even a penalty, merely a knock on, and having a recent Munster player acting as TMO does a disservice to this league. For such a vital PRO14 match undoubtedly the TMO should not have come from the home province.

After Munster forged 17-10 ahead, Connacht responded magnificently to level when they made the most of Chris Cloete’s fifth yellow card in fifty games for Munster. Boyle powered over for a try which Carty converted to leave the sides level for the third occasion 17-17 with time ebbing. The returning Cloete then had a late hit on the impressive Carty which escaped censure by both the referee and TMO before a late penalty gave Munster their narrow victory that secured their PRO14 final slot.

Leinster overcame Ulster by double scores 38-19 to also claim their final berth and that contest also had some key officiating moments. Overall, the Irish provinces have again been the dominant forces in the PRO14, all four being the only contenders to reach the decider with three rounds remaining. Connacht already have Champions Cup rugby wrapped up for next season and can now concentrate on the European Challenge Cup, a competition in which they have played more games than any other club.