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Conor Murray shows Lions class as Munster blow limp Ulster away

Munster 38 Ulster 10


Rory Scannell runs back an interception try for Munster against Ulster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rory Scannell runs back an interception try for Munster against Ulster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rory Scannell runs back an interception try for Munster against Ulster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

On Thursday, Conor Murray danced around his sitting-room in delight when Jason Leonard confirmed his third Lions tour selection and he skipped into Thomond Park full of confidence.

After a period when his Irish place came under review and his form dipped, the 32-year-old looked like he’d taken an infusion of belief from receiving Warren Gatland’s endorsement. Next stop, the Test team.

He scored a poacher’s try, but it was his all-round decision-making and energy that marked him out at an empty Thomond Park as he guided Munster to a second Rainbow Cup win.

It helped that he was behind a dominant pack as fellow Lion Tadhg Beirne outshone Iain Henderson with a whopping 26 tackles and Gavin Coombes excelled. Outside him, Shane Daly was electric.

A limp Ulster proved the perfect opponents to showcase their talents.

Michael Lowry kicked the visitors into an early lead but that was as good as it got on a miserable night for the No 10 who took a Peter O’Mahony boot to his ribs and it all went downhill from there.

The Munster captain’s inadvertent kick was followed by a 30-man shemozzle near the touchline that appeared to spark the home side into life after referee Craig Evans had warned both skippers.

Coombes put some shape on a scrappy opening by picking from the base of a scrum and marching through Marcus Rea, Dave McCann and Stuart McCloskey, who managed to haul him down short of the line. After a couple of close carries, Murray found Rory Scannell and he reached over to score.

JJ Hanrahan converted and, after a bit of error-filled back and forth, Murray struck for his try as Munster took control midway through the half.

Lowry kicked the ball dead from inside his own half and, from the scrum, Dan Goggin brilliantly sent Daly scampering up the left wing.

He kept it alive with help from Chris Cloete and Hanrahan before Dave Kilcoyne’s carry put some shape on things. Munster swung back left where Rob Lyttle did well to deny Goggin, but the scrum-half showed produced a neat finish.

Hanrahan’s conversion was off target, but Ulster had to be sharp to deny the third try as Coombes charged down Lowry and Kilcoyne raced through before Jacob Stockdale covered across to beat Daly to Hanrahan’s chip.

Still, the pressure came and Stockdale needed to be alert to stop Daly who scythed through a gap.

The forwards followed up with some big carries. Coombes was agonisingly close, but Rea forced him into holding on and Lowry cleared.

Hanrahan missed a straightforward penalty to add to his side’s lead, but the game swung further in his side’s direction on the cusp of half-time when Addison caught Daly with his elbow and left Evans with little choice but to reach for his red card.

That’s a 20-minute punishment in this competition, so Munster went to make the advantage count before James Hume could replace the centre. They worked a gap for Haley to score, with Hanrahan converting to make it 19-3 at half-time.

Dan McFarland was so unimpressed with what he’d witnessed he whipped off his entire front-row, replaced scrum-half Alby Mathewson with Dave Shanahan and No 8 McCann with Nick Timoney at the break.

For a few minutes, it looked like he got the desired response.

Another set-to saw Evans penalise Cloete, and Lowry found the corner. Ulster mauled to within inches of the line before skipper Henderson powered over from close range.

Lowry converted but when Scannell picked off the out-half’s pass to race under the sticks for his second, the game was up.

Hanrahan scorched over for his side’s fifth try just before Ulster were restored to 15, adding the conversion to stretch the lead to 23 points.

Back to a full complement, Ulster threw everything at closing the gap but despite losing O’Mahony to a yellow card the red line held firm.

Instead, Andrew Conway capped a good night for Munster with a fine finish to a breakaway try.

Ulster – J Stockdale; R Lyttle, W Addison (red card, J Hume 59), S McCloskey, E McIlroy; M Lowry (A Curtis 60), A Mathewson (D Shanahan h-t); A Warwick (C Reid h-t), J Andrew (R Herring h-t), T O’Toole (M Moore h-t); A O’Connor, I Henderson (capt) (S Carter 68); J Murphy, M Rea, D McCann (N Timoney h-t).

Munster – M Haley; A Conway, D Goggin (D De Allende 73), R Scannell (D De Allende 40-h-t), S Daly; JJ Hanrahan (B Healy 65), C Murray (N McCarthy 65); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman 55), N Scannell (K O’Byrne 60), J Ryan (R Salanoa 60); F Wycherley (J Kleyn 55), T Beirne; P O’Mahony (capt), C Cloete (CJ Stander 55), G Coombes.

Ref – Craig Evans (WRU).

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