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Munster may have proved themselves to be the form province on Friday, chalking up a sixth straight win but seeing a plucky Connacht hand the table-topping Ospreys only their second defeat (10-9)

Munster may have proved themselves to be the form province on Friday, chalking up a sixth straight win but seeing a plucky Connacht hand the table-topping Ospreys only their second defeat of the 2004/05 campaign (10-9), was equally pleasing.

Friday November 19
Munster 45 The Borders 8, Musgrave Park
Scorers: Munster: Tries: Payne, Bowman, Keogh, Hogan, Henderson, McPhail; Cons: Burke 6; Pen: Burke
Borders: Try: Hore; Pen: Warnock

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An impressive Munster side welcomed back Ireland flanker Alan Quinlan to their starting line-up at Musgrave Park, and ran in six excellent tries against the Scots – who are still without a win in the competition since last March.

Munster’s bonus point – achieved after only 38 minutes – must rank as one of the quickest in league history, and to their credit, Alan Gaffney’s men remain the only side to have picked up the extra point before half time – doing so twice – this season. Both Shaun Payne and Rob Henderson each pushed their international claims with impressive scoring displays, as the right boot of fly-half Paul Burke again shone in a 100% kicking master class.

The 31-year-old converted all six of Munster’s tries and tagged on a penalty to move third in the league’s points scoring list with 80 from nine games. An incisive break by Payne saw the former Natal Shark cross the whitewash after just 2 minutes. And while Ally Warnock kicked Steve Bates’ side back to a 7-3 deficit, it was all Munster from there on in.

A succession of penalties on 18 minutes saw Burke pummel for touch and from the third such lineout Australian lock Tom Bowman ploughed over. Centre Jason Holland – on as a short term replacement for Henderson – put Ireland Under 21 back row Stephen Keogh over three minutes later, and superb handling from both Quinlan and Jim Williams saw Bowman’s partner Trevor Hogan celebrate his 25th birthday with a try two minutes before the break.

31-3 up at the break, Munster continued their bonus point form on the restart as former Lion Henderson steamrolled in for his second try in two games.Charlie Hore hurdled four would-be tacklers to dive over to reduce the deficit but replacement wing Martin McPhail, named on the Ireland Sevens squad last week, got Munster’s sixth nearing the finish of a win which sent Gaffney’s side second – now seven points behind the Ospreys.

A Friday night visit to Edinburgh – who have won just once from three outings at Murrayfield – is next on Munster’s agenda.

Munster: S Payne; M Lawler, M Mullins, R Henderson, P Devlin; P Burke, E Reddan; F Roche, J Blaney, G McIlwham, T Bowman, T Hogan, S Keogh, A Quinlan, J Williams (Capt).
Replacements: J Holland for Henderson (14-24 mins, 74-ft), T Hayes for Hogan (48), J O’Connor for Williams (64), M McPhail for Lawler (67), D Fogarty for Blaney (71), M Storey for McIlwham (72), M Prendergast for Burke (77).

Ulster 30 Cardiff Blues 14, Ravenhill
Scorers: Ulster: Tries: Maxwell, Feather, McCullough; Pens: Larkin 5
Cardiff: Try: L Thomas; Pens: L Thomas 3

An upsurge in Ulster’s form saw them run out winners over the Cardiff Blues for the second time this season – earning coach Mark McCall a first win of the campaign at Ravenhill.

Their three-try win ended a poor run of four league defeats in Belfast, and was done with Ulster minus 12 first-team regulars.

Their front five really did concerted damage to the Welsh visitors throughout, with Ballymena wing Andrew Maxwell, stand-in captain Campbell Feather and Matt McCullough – playing out of position as a blindside flanker – profiting with tries.

Fly-half Adam Larkin kicked five penalties to Lee Thomas’ two to leave McCall’s charges with a 15-6 half time lead. Thomas – Cardiff’s eventual try scorer late on – cut it back to six points, but Ulster then stepped up a gear as Maxwell followed up on Paul Steinmetz’s chip on the hour to touch down.

Kieran Campbell’s break paved the way for Feather to notch a fitting second try of the season. Despite Thomas breaching the cover in the final moments, McCullough crashed over from five metres in injury time to confirm Ulster’s fourth win from nine starts.

Afterwards, a delighted McCall praised New Zealand-born Feather. “I thought Campbell did outstandingly well. He led from the front and provided a spark out there, said the former Ireland Under 21 coach.

“We went into the game still under a cloud because we had so many players unavailable and you have got to pay credit to the guys who took the field, some players were making their first appearances of the season out there.

“We really fronted up and they all gave honest performances and we followed the plan. We set ourselves a target for winning three games out of four in November and that is still achievable.” Ulster travel to Llanelli next Sunday.

Ulster: B Cunningham; S Young, J Bell, P Steinmetz, A Maxwell; A Larkin, K Campbell; R McCormack, P Shields, R Moore, G Longwell, R Frost, M McCullough, N Best, C Feather (Capt).
Replacements: G Pfister for Best (77 mins).

Sunday November 21
Neath-Swansea Ospreys 9 Connacht 10, The Gnoll
Scorers: Ospreys: Pens: M Jones 2; Drop gl: M Jones
Connacht: Try: Mostyn; Con: Warwick; Pen: Warwick

Connacht tuned up for their European Challenge Cup dates with Montpellier next month with a dogged victory at the Gnoll, despite having number 8 John O’Sullivan sin-binned.

Matt Mostyn scored his second try in seven outings, midway through the first half – taking a Darren Yapp pass to dart over – as Michael Bradley’s side secured sixth place in the league table. Whilst being the more consistent side throughout, wet conditions and a ragged defence saw Connacht infringe and cough up a series of kickable penalties to the Ospreys’ Matthew Jones, but critically the 20-year-old was wayward with five attempts and he also managed to spill a ball right over the visitors’ try line.

His haul of two penalties and a drop goal was not enough for the win – but a bonus point takes them seven clear of fast-chasing Munster at the top. 7-6 up at the break, thanks to Paul Warwick’s conversion, Connacht traded blows midway through the second half as Warwick, on 64 minutes, and Thomas swapped a penalty and drop goal respectively.

Thomas blew his chance when wayward with a 25-metre shot on 74 minutes, and Connacht – superbly marshalled by skipper Andrew Farley – used all their experience to hold on. A second win on Welsh soil this season sends Connacht into next Sunday’s televised tie against the Dragons (the Sportsground, 1.05pm) with a good degree of buoyancy.

Connacht: M Mostyn; T Robinson, D Yapp, J Downey, C McPhillips; P Warwick, C Keane; R Hogan, B Jackman, P Bracken, C Short, A Farley (Capt), M Swift, M Lacey, J O’Sullivan (sin bin 37-45 mins).
Replacements: J Muldoon for Swift ((12 mins), Swift for Muldoon (28), Muldoon for Swift (70)), S Knoop for Bracken (50), E Elwood for Robinson (57), C O’Loughlin for Mostyn (74).