Sport Rugby

Sunday 19 November 2017

O'Connell injury a big concern

Munster 36 Ulster 8

JOHN FALLON

Munster will sweat over a knee injury which forced skipper Paul O'Connell to be carried off at Thomond Park last night.





The injury to their leader cast a shadow on a workmanlike display from the champions, who ran in five tries to secure third spot.

They will now travel to Wales to play Ospreys next Friday evening, but their hopes could depend on O'Connell's injury not being as serious as initially feared, while hooker Damien Varley was also helped off before the end.

Munster were on top throughout and sealed a bonus-point win in the closing stages. They got on top up front against the understrength Ulster pack and built up a 17-3 interval lead.

Munster needed to lay down a marker in the early stages and Simon Zebo duly obliged with a try after seven minutes. A lineout take from Donnacha Ryan set up a good maul and Conor Murray and Scott Deasy created the opening for Zebo to canter over.

It was Zebo's eighth try of the Pro12 campaign and his 12th of the season -- he scored four in their Heineken Cup campaign.

Zebo might have got a second five minutes later but he was taken out by Andrew Trimble, with the Ireland winger earning 10 minutes in the bin. Deasy, a late replacement for the injured Ian Keatley, slotted the penalty to make it 10-0, with Paddy Jackson responding with a penalty for Ulster.

Then a superb show and go from Perpignan-bound Lifeimi Mafi created a gap with full-back Felix Jones neatly flicking Mike Sherry's pass to Mick O'Driscoll, who put his second-row partner O'Connell away on the right.

The Munster captain might have had a go himself but fed Peter O'Mahony outside and the No 8 duly finished in the corner, with Deasy adding the conversionfor a deserved 14-point interval lead.

Munster wrapped up the win shortly after the interval, with good pressure yielding a try for hooker Mike Sherry.

The tempo of the game dropped after that, although Ulster rallied briefly and flanker Iain Henderson crowned his first start with a fine try when he drove through the tackles of Jones and Zebo to touch down after 55 minutes.

Both sides emptied their benches after that with little open play because of all the disruptions but Munster regrouped and finished the game strongly.

Stephen Archer secured a bonus point with a great drive, touching down at the posts four minutes from the end. And they piled on the pressure in the closing moments with Tommy O'Donnell racing down the wing to score in the left corner in the final play of the night as Munster issued a fairly strong message that they will not relinquish their crown easily.

Scorers -- Munster: Zebo, O'Mahony, Sherry, Archer, O'Donnell try each; Deasy 4 cons, pen. Ulster: Henderson try; Jackson pen.

Munster: F Jones; J Murphy, I Dineen (K Earls 58), L Mafi, S Zebo (D Cusack 77); S Deasy, C Murray (T O'Leary 55); W du Preez (D Kilcoyne 65), M Sherry (D Varley 50, Sherry 78), BJ Botha (S Archer 67); M O'Driscoll (D O'Callaghan 70), P O'Connell (P Butler 55); D Ryan, T O'Donnell, P O'Mahony.

Ulster: A D'Arcy (C Gilroy 64); A Trimble (I Humphreys 50), N Spence, I Whitten, C Cochrane; P Jackson, P Marshall (B McIlroy 60); P McAllister (T Court 12), N Brady (N Annett 67), D Fitzpatrick (C Black 55); L Stevenson, D Tuohy; I Henderson, W Faloon (A Birch 47), R Diack (M McComish 55).

Referee: A Rolland (IRFU).

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