12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
Gary Connolly scored two tries on his debut as Munster romped to a 44-19 win over Connacht. Saturday's success sees them sitting joint-top of the Celtic League after five games.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Saturday, October 1
Connacht 19 Munster 44, The Sportsground (Att: 2,300)
Scorers: Connacht: Try: Conor McPhillips; Con: Paul Warwick; Pens: David Slemen 2, Warwick 2
Munster: Tries: Gary Connolly 2, Frank Sheahan, Marcus Horan, Federico Pucciariello; Cons: Ronan O'Gara 4, Paul Burke; Pens: O'Gara 3
Having signed a four-month contract with Munster before Thursday's Heineken Cup registration deadline, Connolly, the former Great Britain rugby league full-back, made an immediate impression by touching down twice in the 13th and 69th minutes to help condemn Connacht to their fourth successive defeat.
With home flanker Matt Lacey in the sin-bin, clinical Munster claimed two crucial tries in the opening four minutes of the second half through Frankie Sheahan and Marcus Horan to really put it up to the westerners. Michael Bradley's side had been right in it up until those leaked tries as two penalties apiece from David Slemen and his replacement Paul Warwick helped Connacht trail 13-12 at the interval.
However, turning around into a brisk breeze, their challenge faltered and a perfect kicking display from fly-half Ronan O'Gara, who landed seven kicks from seven attempts for a 17-point haul, powered Declan Kidney's Munster to victory.
Slemen's second-minute penalty got Connacht's competitive juices flowing in a bright opening but a neat inside pass from Ian Dowling put new Munster signing Connolly, 34, in for a converted try. Slemen then slotted a second penalty before substitute Warwick, on for the injured Slemen, kicked a monster penalty on 28 minutes with his first touch for a 9-7 home lead.
Warwick swapped a further penalty with O'Gara but, with Lacey carded for killing the ball in first half injury-time, Munster reassumed the lead through O'Gara's right boot.
After failing to gather in the restart to the second half, Connacht were on the back foot immediately. From Donncha O'Callaghan's lineout grab, hooker Sheahan trundled over to score from a traditional Munster maul.
O'Gara converted and added the extras to speedy prop Horan's try three minutes later. Quick thinking from captain Anthony Foley sent Horan haring down the right flank to impressively outpace the Connacht backs.
At 27-12 in front, not even a yellow card for Foley could halt Munster's march to a bonus-point win.
O'Gara added his third penalty and then converted ex-Wigan and St Helen's star Connolly's second try from out wide to rub salt into the widening Connacht wounds.
To their credit, Bradley's men replied with a 72nd-minute try for winger Conor McPhillips, but there was still time for substitute prop Federico Pucciariello to score at the other end and crown Munster's 14th straight success at the Sportsground.
CONNACHT: Matt Mostyn; Keith Matthews, Darren Yapp, James Downey, Conor McPhilips; David Slemen (Paul Warwick 27), Chris Keane; Ray Hogan (Dan McFarland 55), John Fogarty (Chris Venter 63), Stephen Knoop, Andrew Gallagher, Andrew Farley (Capt) (Christian Short 63), John Muldoon, Matt Lacey (Brendan O'Connor 48), Colm Rigney.
MUNSTER: Barry Murphy; John Kelly, Gary Connolly (Rob Henderson 71), Trevor Halstead, Ian Dowling (Tomas O'Leary 45); Ronan O'Gara (Paul Burke 74), Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Frank Sheahan (Jerry Flannery 69), John Hayes (Federico Pucciarello 71), Donncha O'Callaghan (Trevor Hogan 69), Mick O'Driscoll, Stephen Keogh, Denis Leamy (Johnny O'Connor 74), Anthony Foley (Capt).
Referee: David Keane (IRFU); Sin-bin: Matt Lacey (Connacht) (40+1 mins), Anthony Foley (Munster) (57)