MUNSTER will face Leinster next Friday night in the semi-final of the PRO14 for the third year in a row after they easily overcame 13-man Connacht at the Aviva Stadium.
More importantly, they came through this weekend’s game unscathed by injuries.
Munster, though have a shorter turnaround than next Friday’s opponents leaving little time for training this week.
There were plenty of positives to take from the win not least the display of centre Damian De Allende and second row Tadhg Beirne, who put in a man of the match performance.
Johann van Graan’s side scored seven tries in the process but they could have done with a sterner test ahead of Friday’s game.
They also had the luxury of being able to call a few players ashore early with the semi-final in mind.
They have made it to the last four of the competition which was one of their goals at the start of this strange season but they will also be concerned about a few areas of their game.
Their penalty count will certainly be a concern and Leinster will be looking at the breakdown as an area of where they can get change next Friday night.
Despite having a sizeable lead coming into the interval, Munster will be annoyed with the amount of penalties conceded and with their two yellow cards, one to team captain Peter O’Mahony the other to Beirne in a half where there were a total of 26 penalties.
Munster took just seven minutes to open their account when Chris Cloete crashed over from a penalty lineout drive against 14-man Connacht after former Munster man Conor Oliver took a team yellow for penalties. Hanrahan added the conversion for a 7-0 lead.
The Reds added a penalty try eight minutes later off a penalty scrum with referee Frank Murphy showing no hesitation when running in under the sticks to make it 14-0.
Connacht weren’t helping their cause with a huge penalty count and they were permanently down to 14 when Abraham Papali’I was red-carded for a dangerous tackle on Conor Murray and things went from bad to worse for the Westerners shortly afterwards when hooker Shane Delahunt became the second Connacht player to see red when he led with a forearm to CJ Stander’s throat.
Munster were still playing a lot of one-man-out rugby in the remaining part of the first half but it was rewarded as Connacht ran out of numbers and Jeremy Loughman crashed over for try number three with Hanrahan converting to give the Reds a 21-0 lead.
With the clock in red, Munster lost two players to the bin, O’Mahony and Beirne and conceded a try to Bundee Aki converted by another former Munster player, Conor Fitzgerald and leave it at 21-7 at the interval.
Beirne made up for lost time in the 49th minute when he crossed for the bonus point try with Hanrahan converting to make it 28-7.
Two minutes later, Andrew Conway finished an end-to-end try with Beirne and De Allende both prominent in the build up as Munster made their two-man advantage pay. Hanrahan added extras and was back kicking another Conway conversion two minutes later to make it 42-7.
James Cronin added a seventh try for Munster with sub Rory Scannell adding a conversion before Johnny Murphy scored a second try for Connacht with eight minutes to go.
Scorers for Munster: Tries: C Cloete, pen. J Loughman, T Beirne A Conway (2), J Cronin. cons: JJ Hanrahan (6), R Scannell (1) Connacht: Try B Aki, J Murphy con C Fitzgerald.
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran, C De Buitlear, S Arnold, T Daly, M Healy, C Fitzgerald, C Blade, P McAllister, S Delahunt, D Robertson-McCoy, N Murray, Q Roux, A Papali’i.
Replacements: B Aki for O’Halloran (24) J Murphy for Roberston McCoy (39), U Dillane for Murray (46), S Masterson for Daly, S Kerrins, B Aki, C Dean.
MUNSTER: S Daly; A Conway, C Farrell, D de Allende, K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; J Loughman, N Scannell, J Ryan; F Wycherley, T Beirne; P O’Mahony (C), C Cloete, CJ Stander.
Replacements: J Cronin for Loughman, S Archer for Ryan, (both 48), J O’Donoghue for O’Mahony, K O’Byrne for N Scannell (53), C Casey for Murray, R Scannell for Hanrahan (both 56), J O’Sullivan for Stander (60), B Holland for Beirne (62).
Referee: F Murphy (IRFU).