Reds fail to lift gloom

Munster 22 Connacht 6

But it was a performance that failed to lift spirits that were torpedoed with their defeat by Harlequins in the Amlin Challenge Cup the previous week.

A much changed team will no doubt take the field against the Ospreys in the semi-final next Saturday but coach Tony McGahan admitted a vast improvement is essential if there is to be any silverware in the trophy cabinet at the end of the season.

Last night’s game was riddled by unforced errors, although with the outcome of scant importance, there wasn’t a whole lot of incentive for either side.

It was all over by half timebut it says everything about Munster’s poor second-half efforts that all they could manage was a Ronan O’Gara penalty and a late opportunist try by Doug Howlett, converted by O’Gara.

It was a nostalgic evening for a number of players who are moving on next season, most of them associated with Connacht. Front-rows Sean Cronin and Jamie Hagan and speedy winger Fionn Carr are on their way to Leinster, out-half Ian Keatley to Munster and replacements Mike McComish and Troy Nathan to Ulster and Glasgow Warriors respectively. For obvious reasons, Keatley’s performance in direct opposition to O’Gara in the out-half duel aroused most interest in a crowd that struggled to fill Thomond Park to even quarter of its 26,000 capacity.

Keatley got off to an unfortunate start as he missed a relatively easy penalty in the ninth minute, by which stage Munster had taken the lead with a beautifully taken try by Simon Zebo, after a craftily placed kick ahead by Johne Murphy. And with Munster the stronger force up front, where man of the match Mike Sherry impressed, Keatley and the Connacht side in general were starved of the opportunity to make any kind of impression.

This may well have been Alan Quinlan’s last outing in the Munster jersey prior to his impending retirement. Typically, he mixed the excellent with a little bit of off-the-ball stuff that might well have led to a yellow card in the first half. And when a try opportunity presented itself just before the break, he was there to get the touch down. O’Gara converted from wide out on the left leaving Munster 12-6 ahead — Keatley having landed two Connacht penalties from the halfway line.

If anything, the play got scrappier the longer the game went on, with the decision of Connacht coach Eric Elwood to switch Keatley to the centre in a swap with Miah Nikora a major talking point. Another was the ovation accorded Quinlan when he was called ashore in the closing stages.

Doug Howlett was rewarded for his honest endeavour throughout with his late try and there was just about time for Paul O’Connell to be shown a yellow card before a thoroughly disappointing game came to an end.

MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett, J Murphy, D Barnes, S Zebo; R O’Gara, T O’Leary; M Horan, M Sherry, J Hayes, D Ryan, P O’Connell (capt), A Quinlan, N Ronan, D Leamy.

Replacements: P Warwick for Jones (blood) 45-54, P Stringer for O’Leary 50, W Du Preez for Horan 52, S Archer for Hayes 60, T O’Donnell for Leamy 65, I Nagle for Quinlan 72, Denis Hurley for Zebo 73.

CONNACHT: G Duffy; B Tuohy, E Griffin, M Nikora, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan, M McCarthy, B Upton, A Browne, J O’Connor (capt), J Muldoon.

Replacements: T Nathan for Tuohy 44, D Rogers for Hagan and C Willis for Murphy, both 65;

Referee:D Wilkinson (IRFU).

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