MUNSTER warmed up for their crucial Champions Cup game against Racing 92 next week with a 39-13 victory over Connacht at Thomond Park in the Guinness Pro14.
Johann van Graan’s men ran in for five tries to Connacht’s one in what proved to be a comfortable night’s work.
Despite playing into a strong breeze in the opening 40 minutes, Munster led 13-6 thanks to a Darren O’Shea try and eight points from the boot of Ian Keatley.
Munster upped the pressure after the break with two Conor Murray tries and one each for Andrew Conway and Keith Earls securing a bonus point win that keeps them second in the Guinness Pro14 Conference A.
It was not all plain sailing for Munster, however, as the indiscipline that cost them against Ulster on New Year’s Day also reared its ugly head in the first-half.
At times they were under severe pressure in the scrum but ultimately had too much for an under-strength Connacht outfit.
It was Kieran Keane’s men that took an early lead through Jack Carty’s second minute penalty but they were unable to take advantage of both the conditions and Munster falling foul of referee David Wilkinson.
After a scrappy opening quarter, Munster finally managed to pierce a hole in the Connacht defence and it was Chris Farrell who barged through it.
That put Connacht on the back foot inside their own ’22 and O’Shea was then on hand to score following a Keatley pass. Munster’s out-half added the extras to put them 7-3 ahead.
Carty responded with a second penalty but two further kicks from Keatley had Munster seven points clear at the interval.
Aided by the stiff breeze in the second-half, Munster immediately tried to ram home their advantage and a scintillating Earls break put Connacht on the back foot once more.
Keatley’s grubber kick then set Conway up for the second try. The former Leinster man got to the ball just ahead of Connacht full-back Tiernan O’Halloran.
Keatley followed the try up by sending over an excellent touchline conversion that upped Munster’s advantage to 16 points.
The game was put beyond doubt just before the hour when a set-piece move off the scrum involving Rory Scannell, Keatley and Conway resulted in Earls diving over in the left corner.
Earls was then lucky not to get a serious injury when on the receiving end of a tip tackle from Quinn Roux that resulted in the Connacht row being sent to the sin bin.
Munster immediately took advantage of their extra man with a sustained attack that ended with Murray powering over from close range for the bonus point try.
Murray repeated the trick 11 minutes from time with another effort from close range for Munster’s fifth. Connacht responded with a Tom McCartney try late on that proved to be scant consolation for a side that was well beaten on the night.
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls, Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, Darren O’Shea, Jack O’Donoghue, Conor Oliver, CJ Stander (capt); Replacements: Mike Sherry, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, Robin Copeland, Peter O’Mahony, Duncan Williams, Bill Johnston, Darren Sweetnam.
CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Eoin Griffin, Pita Ahki, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Peter McCabe, Tom McCartney, Conor Carey, Quinn Roux, James Cannon, Cillian Gallagher, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon; Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Conan O’Donnell, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, James Mitchell, Craig Ronaldson, Darragh Leader.
REFEREE: David Wilkinson (IRFU)