Munster hammer lowly Connacht

26th Dec 2009, 22:36

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Ronan O'Gara: Helped Munster to an early lead

Ronan O'Gara: Helped Munster to an early lead

Munster's poor Magners League form was left behind for a night at Thomond Park on Boxing Day with an impressive 35-3 win over Connacht.

Munster's poor Magners League form was left behind for a night at Thomond Park on Boxing Day with an impressive 35-3 win over Connacht.
At a bitterly cold Thomond Park, stand-in captain Ronan O'Gara kicked two penalty goals and converted tries from Ian Dowling and Damien Varley as the defending champions cantered into a 20-0 lead within 28 minutes.

Ian Keatley kicked a penalty in first-half stoppage time for a gutsy but limited Connacht side, but late tries from man-of-the-match Paul Warwick and De Villiers put the seal on Munster's second bonus-point win in six days.

O'Gara and Denis Hurley were the only survivors from the Munster team that hammered Perpignan last Sunday in the Heineken Cup, while Connacht also made a raft of changes after their back-to-back Amlin Challenge Cup wins over Worcester.

The westerners turned down a long-range shot at the posts in a sprightly start but Munster soon gained control and, with Peter Stringer drawing a penalty from Connacht's recent signing George Naoupu, O'Gara stepped up to give his side a 10th-minute lead.

Felix Jones and Varley counter-attacked with vigour and the red wave marched towards the Connacht try-line, with Nick Williams, Niall Ronan and Mick O'Driscoll using their brute strength to barrel forward.

But a well-executed tackle from Brett Wilkinson forced a relieving penalty for Connacht and the game had to be held up for some time as Jones was carried off on a stretcher following a clash of heads with Johnny O'Connor.

Old hands O'Gara and Stringer pressed and probed with pinpoint chips and box kicks, and Jones' replacement Paul Warwick was involved twice before winger Dowling was unleashed for an easy run-in at the right corner.

O'Gara sent over a smashing conversion and penalty and Connacht, who are rooted to the bottom of the table, looked to be crumbling as Munster went for the jugular.

The increasingly influential O'Gara refused a shot at the posts in favour of a punt to touch, setting up a trademark lineout catch and drive which resulted in Varley being mauled over the whitewash.

With sleet falling, O'Gara added the extras and Connacht's night worsened when they lost winger Troy Nathan to the sin-bin for an ill-timed tackle on Warwick.

However, the visitors survived the ensuing forward onslaught and replacement out-half Keatley converted a late penalty to get them on the scoreboard.

Connacht, 20-3 down at the interval, needed to tighten up their defence but penalties at the breakdown were proving costly and Warwick, taking over the kicking duties from O'Gara, drilled a penalty over into a stiff wind to extend Munster's advantage.

The returning Nathan did well to get his leg under the ball and prevent Williams from driving over for Munster's third try, and unforced errors crept into both sides' play during a stop-start second half.

Connacht's skipper for the night, Gavin Duffy, was heroic in defence but he could do little when Warwick chipped over the top and won the foot race to chalk up a 71st-minute try, which he converted himself.

Munster brought Scott Deasy, Duncan Williams and Mike Sherry on for their league debuts and the hosts' late adventure was rewarded when De Villiers powered his way over the line on a 20-metre burst, shrugging off Duffy, Michael Swift and Liam Bibo along the way.

The scorers:

For Munster:
Tries: Dowling, Varley, Warwick, De Villiers
Cons: O'Gara 2, Warwick
Pens: O'Gara 2, Warwick

For Connacht:
Pen: Keatley

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Denis Hurley, 13 Tom Gleeson, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Ian Dowling, 10 Ronan O'Gara (c), 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Niall Ronan, 7 Billy Holland, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Mick O'Driscoll, 3 Tony Buckley, 2 Damian Varley, 1 Julien Brugnaut.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 James Coughlan, 19 Tommy O'Donnell, 20 Duncan Williams, 21 Paul Warwick, 22 Scott Deasy.

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (c), 14 Troy Nathan, 13 Niva Ta'auso, 12 Keith Matthews, 11 Liam Bibo, 10 Miah Nikora, 9 Conor O'Loughlin, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Johnny O'Connor, 6 Mike McComish, 5 Bernie Upton, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Dermot Murphy, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Andrew Browne, 19 Ray Ofisa, 20 Ian Keatley, 21 Kierran Campbell, 22 Aidan Wynne.

Referee:Alain Rolland
Assistant Referees: C Stanley (IRFU), J Carvill (IRFU)
TMO: David Keane (IRFU)