Tuesday 12 December 2017

Murray returns as Munster crush Connacht to finish season at the top of the table

Munster 50 Connacht 14

6 May 2017; Conor Murray of Munster is tackled by John Cooney, left, and Sean O'Brien of Connacht during the Guinness PRO12 Round 22 match between Munster and Connacht at Thomond Park, in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
6 May 2017; Conor Murray of Munster is tackled by John Cooney, left, and Sean O'Brien of Connacht during the Guinness PRO12 Round 22 match between Munster and Connacht at Thomond Park, in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

When Connacht rocked up to Thomond Park last season, they left with their first win at the famous Limerick venue in 29 years but this time around they were sent packing with a huge amount of work to do if they are to play in the Champions Cup next season.

Connacht are likely to travel to Northampton in the 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. It will however take a seriously improved performance for that to happen.

The result was beyond doubt by half time with Munster easing into a 24-0 lead – Keith Earls, Jack O'Donoghue and Andrew Conway all crossing the whitewash. They didn't have to wait long to secure the bonus point.

While it might have been a stroll in the park for Munster, apart from over taking Leinster on top of the table, the most important aspect of this victory was that Conor Murray was given 27 minutes on his return from the shoulder/neck injury that has kept him out since Ireland's Six Nations defeat to Wales.

Munster were rampant but in truth never really had to get out of second gear. How much of a benefit that will be to that for their PRO12 semi-final against Ospreys remains to be seen.

It had the air of a meaningless end-of-season game and the raft of empty seats suggested as much – with both terraces behind the goals also closed off but those who did turn up at least had plenty to shout about.

The visitors had started brightly with Tom Farrell making a clear break in midfield but the manner in which they collapsed after an eighth minute scrum typified Connacht's struggles this year.

Munster worked a basic move off the set-piece and Jaco Taute breezed through a gaping hole in the defence before putting Earls over for one of the easiest tries the Ireland winger will ever have scored.

Ian Keatley who was making his 150th appearance for Munster added the extras and tacked on a penalty from in front shortly after when Craig Ronaldson was pinged for holding on.

Connacht were struggled all over the pitch and just shy of the half hour mark, O'Donoghue bulldozed his way over in the corner.

Keatley was again on target with the touchline conversion against his former side and he repeated the trick five minutes later when Conway expertly finished a free-flowing move.

Whatever Pat Lam said to his side at the break had no effect as Munster secured the bonus point three minutes after the restart.

Alex Wootton has a bright future ahead of him and was a constant threat. It was his break that left the Connacht defence all over the place and James Cronin burrowed his way over from close range.

Keatley maintained his 100pc record from the tee to push Munster into a 31-0 lead as the memories of Connacht's dark days came flooding back.

Jack Carty was Connacht's best player and it was no surprise that he was the chief orchestrator in putting his side on the board.

His perfectly judged cross-field kick was collected well by Cian Kelleher who dotted down. Ronaldson's conversion put a bit of momentarily respect on the scoreline but that's all it lasted – one minute.

Munster immediately went down the other end of the pitch and Conway eased in for his second try that Keatley again converted.

Rassie Erasmus responded by bringing five internationals off the bench at the same time but he didn't get the response he wanted as Connacht were rewarded for a rare period of pressure when Naulia Dawai dotted down four minutes after the hour.

Ronaldson's conversion brought the score back to 38-14 and Francis Saili who was lively off the bench got in on the rout as the hosts crossed for their sixth try and Keatley took his tally to 15 points with the boot.

Conor Oliver capped another fine performance with a try at the death to rub salt into the Westerners' wounds.

Both teams' attentions had long been on their respective semi-final clashes as Connacht's meagre PRO12 title defence came to a disappointing end.


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)

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