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Farcical ending a bitter pill for Connacht

By David Kelly

Such has been the alarming rate in which Connacht numbers are dwindling of late, it was a surprise that Pat Lam didn't opt to ferry his remaining players two by two into a makeshift ark.

"The good news is it's a new year next year," he told us in 2016. "We will wake up and go again."

Their destination, after this 16-9 defeat by Munster, seems uncer­tain; they may play more than their two remaining Champions Cup games this month but then, next season, confront the alarming prospect of not playing any top-level European fare at all.

All of which made the quite far­cical ending to a first home defeat since September even harder to swallow.

Sonny Liston once said he didn't mind who was in charge of his fights once they could count to ten.

You'd expect rugby officials to stretch a tad beyond that, at the very least; instead, a whole host of them managed to miss the fact that Munster had a full complement of players on the field for the final moments of this game when they shouldn't have.

As the game entered the red, and Munster already down Dave Kil­coyne in the bin, Duncan Williams joined him.

At precisely the same moment, Kilcoyne was sprung back into the action - joined by Jack O'Donoghue, sacrificed earlier so that James Cronin could come on to scrummage.

And that was the rub; Cronin had no business staying put but nobody - aside from the half-dozen Connacht water boys and medics on the sidelines - pointed it out at the time.

To be fair to Dudley Phillips, the referee, who got quite a lot of other things wrong on the night according to both sides, this was not his rap; his responsibility in binning players does not extend to inviting them back on.

In any event, the sanction, if the offence was spotted, would merely have been another penalty and, in reality, it didn't affect the result in the slightest.

This game didn't turn in the 82nd minute but in the 60th when, moments after Tom McCartney spilled the ball over the try line, Rhys Marshall scored the game's only try at the other end.

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