Johann van Graan could not have asked for more as Munster swept aside Edinburgh 44-14 in Cork on Friday night and long-term absentees Conor Murray and Chris Farrell hit form in their first games of the season.
Munster ran in eight tries at Musgrave Park, but it was a first-half, six-try blitz that blew a weakened Edinburgh team away as the Irish province claimed a fourth Guinness PRO14 victory in a row.
Five of those opening-period tries came from Ireland wings Keith Earls, with an electrifying seven-minute hat-trick just before the interval, and Andrew Conway, whose double added to the previous Saturday’s triple against the USA will have delighted watching Irish boss Joe Schmidt.
“I thought the first 30 minutes were some of the best rugby we’ve played all season,” Munster head coach van Graan said. “I thought we were clinical, we didn’t overplay in our own half and once we got some momentum we turned them.
“We were pretty good in our lineout contesting and our pressure at the breakdown. We knew that their kicking game brings them into the game and I thought we adapted well and we scored some fantastic tries.
“A bit of disruption in the second half, one or two changes that I made. Obviously, we didn’t want to take Mike (Haley) off (at half-time) but he got a bang against the head so we substituted a bit earlier in certain positions and a bit of rhythm was disrupted.
“I thought Edinburgh came out to play in the second half as well but very happy with five points at home.”
Munster had notched their try bonus point just 30 minutes, the opening try coming from centre Chris Farrell, playing his first game since last season’s Six Nations, when he suffered an ACL knee injury in an Ireland training session in March. Scrum-half Murray had not played since June’s third Test against Australia in Sydney having sat out the start of Munster’s campaign with a neck injury.
Yet both made their mark, Murray bringing plenty of zip to Munster’s tempo before being switched to the right wing for the closing 17 minutes as van Graan shuffled his backline following injuries to both Haley (head) and Conway (knee).
Farrell also had the final say with the eighth try on 77 minutes to cap a man of the match performance which had van Graan purring.
“Yes, very happy. We said in the week we were going to target him playing the full 80. I thought some of his passing and some of his offloading were very, very good, obviously his direct running and some of his D (defence).
Very happy that Conor got his 80. We were bargaining only for 50 but we had one or two hits and we’ve got only three backs on the bench and that’s why I moved him to the wing and I thought he did pretty well out there.
As for the watching Schmidt, van Graan said: “He was all smiles, especially because those two are back and looking like they are hitting form straight away.”
With home and away Heineken Champions Cup fixtures against French champions Castres up next, starting at Thomond Park on Sunday, December 9, van Graan will also have been delighted, not just to have two frontline players back and having hit the ground running but also to have successfully reintegrated a large number of his returning internationals following a successful November campaign with Ireland.
He will also be grateful to have a nine-day turnaround ahead of the European round three pool clash with Castres, enough time, he said, for Conway to get over his second-half knock on Musgrave’s artificial playing surface.
He’s good, just a knock to the knee. You know, from the beautiful grass of the Aviva and the mud we had in the week in all the rain and now back here on the 4G, a bit of knocks and bruises.
"He played 80 last week as well so as soon as he got the knock I took him off straight away.”