RaboDirect PRO12: Munster shut out local rivals at Musgrave Park
Last Updated: 23/03/13 8:31pm
Paul O'Connell lasted the full 80 minutes as he made a try-scoring return in Munster's 22-0 RaboDirect PRO12 derby win over Connacht.
Having lined out for Munster 'A' and club side Young Munster in recent weeks, O'Connell stepped up to senior level for the first time since having surgery to correct a bulging disc in his back.
The big lock, eager to be part of Warren Gatland's Lions plans, enjoyed an energetic first appearance for Munster since October and both he and Damien Varley touched down inside the opening 14 minutes at Musgrave Park, with a late Ronan O'Gara penalty making it 15-0 at the break.
But although Varley doubled his try tally in the second half, Rob Penney's men failed to push on and the bonus point score eluded them.
Connacht's determined defence held the hosts in check early on, maintaining their composure despite strong carries from O'Connell and Tommy O'Donnell but they could do nothing to stop young scrum half Cathal Sheridan from supplying a lovely one-handed pass to O'Connell who powered over from the opening try from close range.
O'Gara converted and he was then floored by a late challenge from Michael Kearney in the next phase, which earned the Connacht lock a yellow card.
From the ensuing lineout, an O'Connell-inspired maul led to hooker Varley plunging over the whitewash for an unconverted effort.
The fast pace continued with Danie Poolman and Kieran Marmion threatening for the visitors, and Munster full-back Felix Jones also getting a chance to stretch his legs.
O'Gara looked particularly sharp, evidently keen to show his worth after losing his place in the Ireland squad and he dovetailed well with newcomer Sheridan.
The second quarter was error-strewn, but the penalty count was keeping Connacht pinned back and O'Gara rifled over a right-sided penalty in injury time.
Munster added their third try in the 50th minute. Man of the match O'Connell set up a close-in ruck and Varley ghosted in for an opportunist score with the defending Denis Buckley and Mike McCarthy both caught out.
O'Gara's successful conversion put 22 points between the sides.
Connacht gleaned more territory in their attempts to respond, with replacement scrum half Paul O'Donohoe bundled into touch as he tried to reach over in the left corner.
Dan Parks was unable to exert much influence and disappointingly, a fine midfield run from Gavin Duffy came to nothing as the supporting McCarthy lacked support.
Connacht had won their previous three league games but never threatened Munster's lead, and this inter-provincial clash petered out with Munster - so desperate for the bonus point to boost their challenge for an unlikely play-off spot - getting no reward for a late series of frantic attacks.
Fri 24th Apr
Edinburgh0 - 0Zebre
Ulster0 - 0Leinster
Sat 25th Apr
Connacht0 - 0Glasgow Warriors
Munster0 - 0Treviso
Cardiff Blues0 - 0Ospreys
Dragons0 - 0Scarlets
Fri 8th May
Dragons0 - 0Edinburgh
Leinster0 - 0Treviso
Ospreys0 - 0Glasgow Warriors
Sat 9th May
Ulster0 - 0Munster
Zebre0 - 0Connacht
Sun 10th May
Scarlets0 - 0Cardiff Blues
Sat 16th May
Cardiff Blues0 - 0Zebre
Connacht0 - 0Ospreys
Edinburgh0 - 0Leinster
Glasgow Warriors0 - 0Ulster
Munster0 - 0Dragons
Treviso0 - 0Scarlets
RaboDirect PRO12 2012/13 Round 18
Leinster make seven changes ahead of their derby against Ulster as an array of internationals return to league action.
Ian Madigan scored all Leinster's points as they went top of the RaboDirect PRO12 by beating Glasgow Warriors 22-17.
Edinburgh finally brought their 11-match losing streak to an end after edging past Ulster 14-8 at Murrayfield on Friday.