Munster soothe Wasps' sting with demolition of Connacht

Munster 39 Connacht 10

Smarting from the Heineken Cup loss to Wasps and the pitiful defeat to Cardiff last week, Gaffney finally had a smile on his face as the side smashed their way through the Connacht defence six times to record a comprehensive victory.

"It was one of the best displays of the Celtic League; from our point of view, much needed and very welcome. I was happy with the display. Our defence was good and we utilised our options.

"We knew after last week that there had to be a dramatic improvement and it's always difficult against an Irish province because the players know each other so well. But I was pleased with the way the players kept composed in sometimes difficult situations. There were a lot of good individual performances and it was, overall, a very good team effort."

Munster dominated the first half although there were signs of rustiness amongst a group of players still finding their feet. It took a stroke of luck for them to manufacture the opening try after nine minutes when a Connacht throw to the lineout went astray. Anthony Foley was first onto the ball and he ploughed over for the score.

Despite some good phases and threats from referee Hugh Watkins to Connacht for bordering on offside, it took a 25th minute penalty from Jeremy Staunton to stretch the lead to eight points.

It really should have been more. Munster were in total control, moved possession at every opportunity and created all the chances, the best of them coming when David Pusey stormed over at the corner only to be called back for a forward pass from Jason Holland.

But seconds later, Munster were 13 points to the good when David Wallace took his chance for a try and the flanker was back on song a couple of minutes later with his second, converted this time by Staunton to give Munster a well deserved 20 point lead at the interval.

After the disappointment of losing out in the Heineken Cup semi-final to Wasps, this was hardly vintage rugby, but the strong impression made by Munster in the first half owed much to semi-final absentees Wallace and Alan Quinlan, both of whom were conspicuous by their presence against a Connacht side that paid dearly when Dan McFarland was shown the yellow card four minutes from the break.

It didn't help Munster that they got embroiled in a row early in the second half, seconds after Connacht were reduced to 13 men following the sin-binning of John O'Sullivan.

Instead of utilising that advantage, Munster were penalised twice and, finally, Eric Elwood opened Connacht's account with a three-pointer.

Connacht stormed back into contention after 16 minutes when awarded a penalty try at a time when they were still reduced to 14 men but then promptly blew it by receiving a third yellow card of the night; shown to Peter Bracken for a high challenge on Marcus Horan.

Subsequent events proved this incident crucial and Jason Holland grabbed Munster's fourth try when he brushed aside two tackles to score under the posts. Staunton converted to give Munster that much-needed breathing space.

Munster thrived on that and scored another ten minutes from the end when Pusey finally got the reward after being sent in courtesy of top-notch passes from Anthony Foley and Alan Quinlan.

The best wine was reserved until last when, after a plethora of changes, Trevor Hogan rampaged through the middle of the field and found Christian Cullen on his left. The former All Black finally found the space he craves and raced away for a try under the posts. He was even given the pleasure of converting himself for a 39-10 lead they retained until the finish despite a late Connacht challenge.

MUNSTER: C. Cullen, J. Kelly, S. Payne, J. Holland, A. Horgan, J. Staunton, E. Reddan, M. Horan, J. Flannery, G. McIlwham, D. O'Callaghan, D. Pusey, A. Quinlan, A. Foley (captain), D. Wallace. Replacements. M. Mullins for Horgan, T. Hogan for O'Callaghan (both 62), S. Keogh for Pusey, M. Prendergast for Reddan (both 70, F. Roche for McIlwham (73, injured), S. Kerr for Horan (76).

CONNACHT: M. Mostyn, C. O'Loughlin, D. Yapp, M. McHugh, C. McPhillips, E. Elwood, M. Walls, D. McFarland, B. Jackman (captain), P. Bracken, D. Browne, A. Farley, M. Swift, J. O'Sullivan, M. Lacey. Replacement. P. Neville for Lacey (61), P. O'Sullivan for Yapp (68), J. Fogarty for Jackman, M. McCarthy for Browne (both 73) Temporary. A. Clarke for Swift (38-48).

Referee: H. Watkins (Wales).

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