Reds' relief as Murray injury return goes to plan
Munster 50 Connacht 14
Rassie Erasmus admitted that he was relieved to welcome Conor Murray back during his side's thumping bonus-point win over Connacht that saw Munster overtake Leinster at the top of the Guinness PRO12 table to set-up a home semi-final with the Ospreys.
Murray came off the bench after 52 minutes, at which stage the victory had long been wrapped up, and came through it unscathed. The scrum-half hadn't played since injuring his neck and shoulder in Ireland's Six Nations defeat to Wales but made a successful comeback that had Erasmus and Warren Gatland breathing a sigh of relief.
"He was looking solid," Erasmus said. "I'm so glad he came through the week. We all thought this would have happened five or six weeks ago.
"We didn't jeopardise his career. We didn't take unnecessary risks. This was the time to bring him back. I think he looked pretty sharp and hopefully tomorrow morning when he wakes up, he doesn't have too many symptoms or after-effects. That's positive."
Connacht will travel to Northampton in the Champions Cup semi-final play-off, unless Gloucester win the Challenge Cup, and the only positive that they could take from this woeful display is that, if they make the final, it will be played at the Sportsground. However, it will take a seriously improved performance for that to happen.
"We're not happy with this week or last week but there are things that we will take into it," Pat Lam maintained. "I said it to the boys, they've got to keep their goals firmly on that game against Northampton or Gloucester. We could have won or lost those two games but it wouldn't have made any difference to what happens in that play-off game."
The result was beyond doubt by half-time with Munster easing into a 24-0 lead - Keith Earls, Jack O'Donoghue and Andrew Conway crossing the whitewash.
Munster were rampant but in truth never really had to get out of second gear. How much of a benefit that will be to for their PRO12 semi-final against Ospreys remains to be seen.
Earls began the seven-try rout inside 10 minutes after collecting an inside pass from Jaco Taute. O'Donoghue and Conway added two more first-half tries to leave the hosts comfortably in front at the break. Ian Keatley, who was making his 150th appearance for Munster, converted all three and added a penalty for a 24-0 half-time lead.
Munster secured the bonus point three minutes after the restart. James Cronin burrowed over from close range after good play from Alex Wootton, who Erasmus confirmed afterwards had suffered what looks like a serious hamstring injury. Keatley maintained his 100pc record with the boot to push Munster into a 31-0 lead.
Cian Kelleher put Connacht on the board after collecting Jack Carty's cross-field kick. Craig Ronaldson converted but Munster hit back through Conway's second. A rare period of Connacht pressure was then rewarded when Naulia Dawai dotted down four minutes after the hour.
Ronaldson's conversion brought the score back to 38-14 but Francis Saili and Conor Oliver added two more tries with Ian Keatley bringing his tally with the boot to 15 points.
Scorers - Munster: Conway 2 tries, Earls, O'Donoghue, Cronin, Saili, Oliver 1 try each, Keatley 6 cons, 1 pen.Connacht: Kelleher, Dawai 1 try each, Ronaldson 2 cons.
Munster: A Conway; A Wootton (T Bleyendaal 47), J Taute (F Saili 58), D Goggin (Taute 70), K Earls; I Keatley, A Lloyd (C Murray 52); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 58), R Marshall (N Scannell 58), S Archer (J Ryan 58), D O'Shea (P O'Mahony 58) , B Holland (capt), J Deysel (T O'Donnell 64), C Oliver, J O'Donoghue.
Connacht: T O'Halloran (D Leader 69); C Kelleher, T Farrell, C Ronaldson, D Poolman; J Carty (M Boshoff 66-70), K Marmion (J Cooney 59); D Buckley (JP Cooney 59), S Delahunt (D Heffernan, 62), C Carey (F Bealham 59), Q Roux (S O'Brien 52), A Browne, E McKeon, J Connolly (N Dawai 52), J Muldoon (capt).
Ref: D Wilkinson (IRFU).
Sunday Indo Sport