Joey Carbery the star of the show as Munster edge out Connacht in tight encounter
Connacht 24 Munster 31
Munster produced their most impressive performance of the season to date at just the right time to take control of their Guinness PRO14 destiny and tee themselves up for a defining fortnight in their campaign.
They go to Gloucester on Friday buoyed by this four-try win at a venue where they've struggled in recent years. They showed control and real attacking intent to dominate a team who could have leap-frogged them with a win.
Connacht were missing key men and lost Denis Buckley to a stomach bug before the game and they had no answer to Munster's possession game, but managed to hang in for a losing bonus point.
Glasgow's defeat to Benetton earlier in the day had heightened the opportunity for these Conference A rivals and, as they turn their attention to a Premiership double-header that will decide their European fate, Johann van Graan's men are sitting pretty, two points clear of the Scots.
Despite another superb performance from Tom Farrell that only enhanced the centre's Six Nations credentials, Munster were able to dominate the physical exchanges and hold on to the ball.
The visitors gifted Connacht the early start when No 8 Arno Botha carried the ball high into contact and had his pocket picked by Farrell. The centre raced home untouched to the delight of the home supporters.
Jack Carty converted, but just as the western province sought to double down after Farrell won a penalty from the kick-off, Tadhg Beirne rose highest and picked off Dave Heffernan's throw.
The home side would rue that moment. Alby Mathewson chased Caolin Blade into touch from Alex Wootton's clever chip and, from the lineout, Munster went through 10 phases before Joey Carbery pulled the ball back to Keith Earls who stayed strong in Cian Kelleher's tackle long enough to allow Peter O'Mahony come on to the ball at pace and score.
Carbery converted and a controversial O'Mahony poach penalty gave them a chance to get ahead.
The out-half kicked into Connacht territory and two maul penalties later, they stayed patient in the '22 and John Ryan was stopped short by Gavin Thornbury and Paul Boyle.
Crucially, the scrum went the visiting side's way. Mathewson picked from the base and attracted Tom Daly and Blade's attention just long enough to put Dan Goggin over.
The home crowd were further frustrated by another marginal call that went Munster's way when Jack Carty's defence-splitting pass to Colby Fainga'a was deemed forward, but they finished the half with a penalty after Matt Healy worked a good break and O'Mahony came through and played Blade at the breakdown.
Carty's kick made it 14-10 at the break to the visitors and they didn't waste any time after the restart as Farrell stepped inside Goggin and swatted away Chris Farrell before finding Kelleher on his shoulder and the winger sailed over.
The out-half converted and then took a brilliant high ball back at the men in red, Tommy O'Donnell was harshly penalised for not rolling away and Carty kicked to the corner but a promising move came to nothing when Fainga'a was penalised for picking and going while part of the ruck.
Munster hit back with a superb try as Earls came back against the grain, rode Thornbury's tackle and found Farrell who did the same with Fainga'a and put Wootton through.
Darragh Leader halted his march, but Beirne arrived at pace to keep the momentum going before Mathewson floated a beautiful pass wide to the waiting Goggin who scored his second.
Carbery converted and Johann van Graan sent on Conor Murray and CJ Stander to ram home the advantage and a penalty against Daly for not rolling away allowed the out-half extend the lead to seven.
And Carbery finished the job after moving to full-back to accommodate Tyler Bleyendaal who found him with a long, floated pass and the 23-year-old stepped inside Matt Healy to score.
He converted his own try and that looked to be that until Connacht surged back once more with Fainga'a following up another superb Farrell carry to find Carty on his shoulder and he raced home and quickly converted.
The Sportsground grew hopeful once more, but Munster closed it out professionally and go into a huge week with a pep in their step.
Connacht: J Carty try, 3 cons, 1 pen; T Farrell, C Kelleher try each,
Munster: J Carbery try, pen, 4 cons; D Goggin 2 tries, P O'Mahony try.
CONNACHT – D Leader; C Kelleher (C de Buitlear 74), T Farrell, T Daly (D Horwitz 72), M Healy; J Carty, C Blade (A Lloyd 65); P McCabe (M Burke 59), D Heffernan (capt) (T McCartney 54), D Robertson-McCoy (F Bealham 44); G Thornbury, Q Roux (U Dillane 58); P Boyle, C Fainga'a, E Masterson (C Gallagher 65).
MUNSTER – A Conway; K Earls, C Farrell, D Goggin (S Arnold 74), A Wootton (T Bleyendaal 60); J Carbery, A Mathewson (C Murray 51); J Loughman (D Kilcoyne 61), N Scannell (K O'Byrne 67), J Ryan (S Archer 40); J Kleyn, T Beirne; P O'Mahony (capt) (B Holland 65), T O'Donnell, A Botha (CJ Stander 52).
Ref – M Adamson (SRU)