Quinlan handed perfect send-off
Published 07/05/2011 | 05:00
Question marks will remain over Munster's ability to perform in pressure situations, but they at least showed enough firepower to shoot down Connacht last night.
Six days on from the embarrassing home defeat against Harlequins and, while the expected backlash never really materialised, Tony McGahan's men still ran out comfortable winners to make it nine wins out of nine at home in the Magners League this season.
First-half tries by Simon Zebo and Alan Quinlan set Munster on their way, while Doug Howlett added a third late on to put some daylight between the sides.
The result had little bearing on the complexion of the final table, with Connacht finishing where they began -- in ninth position.
Munster had already achieved more wins than any other side in the history of Celtic rugby, and will now go on to play the Ospreys at the semi-final stage.
With little riding on the match, it had all the feel of an end-of-season dead rubber which, of course, it was.
Much of the spotlight fell on Munster-bound Keatley, who was playing his last game for Connacht before switching allegiance.
Fionn Carr, Jamie Hagan and Sean Cronin were all making their final appearances for Connacht as well.
The home crowd's reaction to Quinlan, also, felt like a final goodbye.
Zebo set the ball rolling for Munster after just five minutes when he latched on to a chip by Johne Murphy and skirted home in the corner.
Keatley missed a kickable penalty shortly after, but made amends with a clean strike on the half hour.
He then backed it up with a superb effort from the halfway line to put Connacht 6-5 ahead.
Otherwise, there wasn't a whole lot for the paltry home crowd to get excited about as both sets of players went through the motions.
Connacht looked comfortable in defence, but offered little in attack, though Frank Murphy did look reasonably sharp.
Munster, as they have done for much of the season, persisted in passing the ball from touchline to touchline, but without much penetration, while the scrum also experienced some difficulties. On the plus side, the line-out worked extremely well, with Paul O'Connell and 22-year-old hooker Mike Sherry finding an impressive rhythm.
Sherry, in fact, was probably Munster's best forward during the first half, and it was his accuracy which paved the way for Munster's second try.
Quinlan was this time the target, collecting from a five-metre line-out and eventually grounding the ball after a well worked maul.
O'Gara converted and Munster led 12 going into the break.
The second half was marginally better than the first, with both sides showing great urgency in attack.
O'Gara kicked another penalty for Munster, but really it was Connacht who forced the play during the early stages, albeit without much success on the scoreboard.
Cronin almost crossed the whitewash, but was denied by a superb last ditch tackle from Danny Barnes.
Keatley missed a relatively straight forward penalty, while Duffy touched down for what appeared to be a perfectly legitimate try, only for play to be brought back for a marginal knock-on decision in the lead-up.
Carr also caused some problems with his evasive running, while John Muldoon made plenty of yards in the tight, but while they threatened repeatedly to unlock the home defence, they never quite achieved it.
Munster, it seemed, were happy to wind down the clock until the moment came for Quinlan to say farewell, which he did to rapturous applause with eight minutes to go.
The crowd's response energised the home side, who immediately registered another try by Howlett.
Sub Paul Warwick was in this case the instigator, chipping delicately over the cover defence to set up the former All Black, though the try owed as much to the bounce and the sandy surface as it did to any amount of skill, which probably summed up the match.
Munster -- F Jones (P Warwick 45-54, 73); D Howlett, J Murphy, D Barnes, S Zebo (D Hurley 57); R O'Gara, T O'Leary (P Stringer 50); M Horan (W du Preez 54), M Sherry, J Hayes (S Archer 61); D Ryan, P O'Connell capt; A Quinlan (I Nagle 72), N Ronan, D Leamy (T O'Donnell 67).
Connacht -- G Duffy; B Tuohy (T Nathan 44), E Griffin, M Nikora, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy (C Willis 67); B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan (D Rogers 67); M McCarthy, B Upton; A Browne, J O'Connor capt, J Muldoon.
Ref -- Dudley Phillips