Monday 10 December 2018

Conor Murray brace puts finishing touches on Munster win over Connacht

Conor Murray scored a brace of tries for Munster
Conor Murray scored a brace of tries for Munster

Conor Murray crossed for two tries in a superior second-half display from Munster, who ran out 39-13 bonus-point winners over Connacht at Thomond Park.

Darren O'Shea's 19th-minute try had the hosts, who had lost their two previous inter-provincial clashes, 10-6 ahead at half-time with Jack Carty kicking two penalties for Connacht.

The much-changed westerners were in contention until Andrew Conway's opportunist 53rd-minute try - following on from an Ian Keatley penalty - which widened the margin to 14 points.

Connacht lock Quinn Roux's tip tackle on Keith Earls, the scorer of Munster's third try, could easily have been a red card rather than a yellow, and a trademark close-range brace from Murray hammered home his team's advantage before Tom McCartney replied late on for the visitors.

Buoyed by winning six points from their other two festive inter-provincial fixtures, Connacht were the better side in the opening minutes in Limerick.

Carty swung over a peach of a penalty from the right wing, following Niyi Adeolokun's initial break, but Munster gradually improved and went ahead midway through the first half.

Simon Zebo's clever kick through set up a lineout opportunity, and following a high-tempo set of phases which saw the returning Chris Farrell go close, second row O'Shea hurtled onto Conor Oliver's short pass to cross to the left of the posts.

Ian Keatley converted before Carty closed the gap after Farrell was penalised for not releasing.

Referee David Wilkinson's handling of the breakdown and some messy scrums, with Conor Carey and Dave Kilcoyne both guilty of boring in at times, made for a stop-start contest.

Some decent attacking, coupled with Connacht captain John Muldoon going off his feet, saw Keatley make it 10-6 on the half hour mark.

Kieran Keane's men were unable to profit from a strong start to the second period, and Munster had the rub of the green in the third quarter, a poor call by Wilkinson against Muldoon seeing Keatley split the posts with his second successful penalty.

A pass to Earls in the build-up to Conway's try looked forward, but play was allowed to continue and the latter followed up on a well-weighted bouncing kick from Keatley to touch down ahead of Tiernan O'Halloran.

Minus their Ireland internationals and some other frontliners, Connacht's challenge seemed to run out of steam as Munster impressively marched to their bonus point.

Now bubbling with attacking intent, Earls was released for the left corner after some neat midfield interplay between Keatley and Conway, before Roux's dangerous challenge on the try scorer, three minutes later, left Connacht down to 14 men.

With James Cronin adding a physical edge off the bench, the Munster pack continued to get over the gain-line and the ever-alert Murray stretched out for the whitewash twice after 63 and 69 minutes, with Keatley completing his 14-point haul from the tee.

Busy scrum half James Mitchell was the pick of Connacht's replacements, helping to reignite their play once they were back to their full complement.

He dribbled through and was tackled five metres out before Cillian Gallagher's one-handed pass put hooker McCartney over for a consolation try, converted by Craig Ronaldson.

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