Former All Black Christian Cullen made a try-scoring return for Munster on Saturday evening as he touched down in their 13-0 Magners League win over Connacht.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Sunday, December 3
MUNSTER 13 CONNACHT 0, Thomond Park (Att: 5,100)
Scorers: Munster: Try: Christian Cullen; Con: Ronan O'Gara; Pens: O'Gara 2
Sidelined since injurying his shoulder against Ulster in September, Cullen crept through after 72 minutes to grab his first try since last April and decide what was a forgettable affair in Limerick.
The win, teed up by two first half penalties from Ronan O'Gara, sent Munster up to eighth in the table, leaving them just a point behind Connacht who failed to turn possession into points.
The downsides for Munster, ahead of next weekend's Heineken Cup trip to Cardiff, were injuries to Barry Murphy (shoulder) and David Wallace (leg), and the pair will be closely monitored by the Munster medical staff over the coming days.
In persistent rain and wind and under a full moon, the sides slogged it out in a dour first half. There was little room for manoeuvre, especially in midfield where Murphy and his former UL Bohemians team mate Keith Matthews were in direct opposition.
Unfortunately for Murphy, his evening lasted barely ten minutes as he was forced off with a shoulder injury and replaced by Trevor Halstead.
With the aid of that gusting wind, Connacht had the better of the early exchanges, pinning the hosts back in their own half with the kicking skills of Mark McHugh and Chris Keane, who teased through a couple of grubber kicks, to the fore.
However Connacht skipper John Fogarty was punished for some backchat in the 16th-minute when O'Gara slotted over his first penalty from the 22-metre line. Cullen was showing well in attack but Connacht's defence was resilient and any gaps were quickly sealed off.
McHugh turned down a 45-metre shot at the posts coming up to the interval, and then, following a Colm Rigney break and an offside from John Kelly, the Connacht number 10 unusually missed a penalty from closer in.
He paid the price, in deepest injury-time, when an excellent throw from Frankie Sheahan found his captain Paul O'Connell at the back of a lineout. Munster mauled forward, sent Halstead through on crash ball and Connacht prevented a quick release, gifting O'Gara his second penalty success. That was the last kick of the half and Munster took a 6-0 buffer into the break.
Connacht spent the first 15 minutes of the second period in the hosts' half, but despite pops at the line from Andrew Farley and Rigney, Munster held out.
O'Gara missed a relative sitter from 25 metres out, on the hour mark, and his two kicks looked like deciding a poor quality game until Cullen struck late.
In the lead-up to the score, O'Connell and Quinlan eked out the hard yards in a maul, then a lovely delayed pass from O'Gara sent Halstead haring through a gap, he found Lifeimi Mafi and Cullen was up in support to canter over.
The win prolongs the agony for luckless Connacht, who have now gone 26 games without registering a win over Munster - their last victory came in the Interprovincial Championship in 1986.
...Ronan O'Gara prepares to put in a tackle on his opposite number, Connacht's out-half Mark McHugh...
TIME LINE: 16 minutes - Munster penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 3-0; 40+4 mins - Connacht penalty: missed by Mark McHugh; 40+7 mins - Munster penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 6-0; Half-time - Munster 6 Connacht 0; 62 mins - Munster penalty: missed by Ronan O'Gara; 73 mins - Munster try: Christian Cullen - 11-0; conversion: Ronan O'Gara - 13-0; Full-time - Munster 13 Connacht 0
MUNSTER: Christian Cullen; John Kelly, Barry Murphy, Lifeimi Mafi, Anthony Horgan; Ronan O'Gara, Tomas O'Leary; Darragh Hurley, Frankie Sheahan, Federico Pucciariello, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.
Replacements used: Trevor Halstead for Murphy (10 mins), John Hayes for Hurley (half-time), Tim McGann for Wallace (48 mins), Hurley for Pucciariello (68), Peter Stringer for Kelly (74), Jeremy Manning for O'Gara, Chris Wyatt for O'Connell, Andy Kyriacou for Sheahan (all 80+3).
CONNACHT: Daniel Riordan; Conor McPhillips, Paul Warwick, Keith Matthews, Darren Yapp; Mark McHugh, Chris Keane; Ray Hogan, John Fogarty (capt), Stephen Knoop, David Gannon, Andrew Farley, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, Colm Rigney.
Replacements used: Brett Wilkinson for Hogan (19 mins), Brendan O'Connor for Knoop (60), Ryan Strudwick for Gannon (64), Conor O'Loughlin for Keane (67), Adrian Flavin for Fogarty (68), John Hearty for McHugh, Gavin Williams for Matthews (both 74).
Referee: Donal Courtney (Ireland)