Munster Sale past Sharks
Reigning champions become first team to qualify for last eight
Last Updated: 16/01/09 10:24pm
O'Connell: Scored the opening try
Holders Munster booked their place in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for the seventh year running, courtesy of a 37-14 rout of Sale Sharks on Friday night.
Paul O'Connell and Jerry Flannery got first-half tries for the Magners League leaders at Thomond Park and David Wallace, Lifeimi Mafi, Tomas O'Leary and Paul Warwick crossed after the break in a convincing bonus point win.
Despite a Charlie Hodgson try early in the second-half, the in-form Guinness Premiership team never really got in the game, with the profligacy of the fly-half with the boot costly early on.
Sale now have no chance of qualifying from Pool One with the final round of group matches still left to play, while Munster will head to Montauban expecting to round things off with a win.
The Sharks got early hands on the ball after Luke McAlister's kick-off, but were unable to capitalise as Alan Quinlan was able to break down the right flank for Munster.
Consecutive kick-and-chases from Keith Earls and full-back Warwick after the ball had been swept across to the left side then led to the game's opening try.
O'Connell it was who dived straight through the Sale defence at the ruck to touch down on the line. O'Gara narrowly missed the conversion attempt, but the hosts held a 5-0 lead with less than five minutes on the clock.
Hodgson kicked his second penalty attempt successfully soon after though as the Sharks moved to within two points.
But Munster were looking ever dangerous on the break and Flannery finished off a second flowing move, this time down the left flank, after Warwick and flanker Wallace had combined to suck in the Sharks. O'Gara kicked the conversion and Munster had healthy a nine-point advantage.
Hodgson then shanked another penalty attempt before the visitors were given a lifeline as hooker Flannery went from saint to sinner.
The Ireland international was yellow-carded for a needless trip and McAlister took over the kicking duties to convert the resulting penalty.
However, Sale could not add to that score and worse was to follow as Andy Tuilagi went off with an arm injury to be replaced by Rudi Keil.
Trailing 12-6, Sale made a disastrous start to the second-half as they received the kick-off only to be instantly turned over, scrum-half O'Leary then moving the ball quickly to Quinlan and then on to Wallace, allowing the openside flanker to bulldoze his way over for a converted try.
McAlister kicked a penalty to make it 19-9 though and, with Wales international Dwayne Peel and England's Andrew Sheridan now off the bench, the Premiership side appeared to be right back in the match.
Scrum-half Peel made an immediate impact with a quick tap penalty, racing through, before finding Eifion Lewis-Roberts and the front-rower barged his way forward before finding Hodgson for Sale's first try.
No sooner had they fought their way back into it than Mafi was running through to capitalise on a mistake by try-scorer Hodgson. Attempting to catch a cross-field O'Gara kick into the corner, the England number 10 only succeeded in dropping the ball just short of the line for a grateful Mafi to pounce.
O'Gara missed the conversion, but Munster had a commanding 24-14 lead and with a bonus point already secured.
However, the champions were not finished just yet as O'Leary finished coolly from a scrum five metres from the Sale line.
There was still time for the outstanding Warwick to put the icing on the cake for the Irish province at the death and the full-back then kicked a penalty to complete a comprehensive 37-14 victory.