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RaboDirect PRO12: Munster shut out local rivals at Musgrave Park
Paul O'Connell lasted the full 80 minutes as he made a try-scoring return in Munster's 22-0 RaboDirect PRO12 derby win over Connacht.
Having lined out for Munster 'A' and club side Young Munster in recent weeks, O'Connell stepped up to senior level for the first time since having surgery to correct a bulging disc in his back.
The big lock, eager to be part of Warren Gatland's Lions plans, enjoyed an energetic first appearance for Munster since October and both he and Damien Varley touched down inside the opening 14 minutes at Musgrave Park, with a late Ronan O'Gara penalty making it 15-0 at the break.
But although Varley doubled his try tally in the second half, Rob Penney's men failed to push on and the bonus point score eluded them.
Connacht's determined defence held the hosts in check early on, maintaining their composure despite strong carries from O'Connell and Tommy O'Donnell but they could do nothing to stop young scrum half Cathal Sheridan from supplying a lovely one-handed pass to O'Connell who powered over from the opening try from close range.
O'Gara converted and he was then floored by a late challenge from Michael Kearney in the next phase, which earned the Connacht lock a yellow card.
From the ensuing lineout, an O'Connell-inspired maul led to hooker Varley plunging over the whitewash for an unconverted effort.
The fast pace continued with Danie Poolman and Kieran Marmion threatening for the visitors, and Munster full-back Felix Jones also getting a chance to stretch his legs.
O'Gara looked particularly sharp, evidently keen to show his worth after losing his place in the Ireland squad and he dovetailed well with newcomer Sheridan.
The second quarter was error-strewn, but the penalty count was keeping Connacht pinned back and O'Gara rifled over a right-sided penalty in injury time.
Munster added their third try in the 50th minute. Man of the match O'Connell set up a close-in ruck and Varley ghosted in for an opportunist score with the defending Denis Buckley and Mike McCarthy both caught out.
O'Gara's successful conversion put 22 points between the sides.
Connacht gleaned more territory in their attempts to respond, with replacement scrum half Paul O'Donohoe bundled into touch as he tried to reach over in the left corner.
Dan Parks was unable to exert much influence and disappointingly, a fine midfield run from Gavin Duffy came to nothing as the supporting McCarthy lacked support.
Connacht had won their previous three league games but never threatened Munster's lead, and this inter-provincial clash petered out with Munster - so desperate for the bonus point to boost their challenge for an unlikely play-off spot - getting no reward for a late series of frantic attacks.
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Guinness PRO12 Table
|Friday 6th March|
|19:35||Cardiff Blues vs Connacht|
|19:35||Glasgow Warriors vs Zebre|
|Saturday 7th March|
|14:40||Ospreys vs Munster|
|17:15||Scarlets vs Leinster|
|18:00||Treviso vs Edinburgh|
|Sunday 8th March|
|16:00||Dragons vs Ulster|
|Friday 27th March|
|19:35||Leinster vs Glasgow|
|19:35||Ulster vs Cardiff Blues|
|Saturday 28th March|
|TBC||Benetton Treviso vs Newport Gwent D'gons|
|TBC||Ospreys vs Zebre|
|14:40||Scarlets vs Edinburgh|
|17:15||Munster vs Connacht|
|Friday 10th April|
|19:35||Glasgow vs Cardiff Blues|
|19:35||Benetton Treviso vs Ospreys|
|Saturday 11th April|
|TBC||Edinburgh vs Munster|
|TBC||Zebre vs Scarlets|
|14:40||Connacht vs Ulster|
|Sunday 12th April|
|16:00||Newport Gwent D'gons vs Leinster|
|Friday 24th April|
|19:35||Edinburgh vs Zebre|
|19:35||Ulster vs Leinster|
|Saturday 25th April|
|TBC||Munster vs Benetton Treviso|
|TBC||Cardiff Blues vs Ospreys|
|TBC||Newport Gwent D'gons vs Scarlets|
|TBC||Connacht vs Glasgow|
|Saturday 9th May|
|TBC||Ulster vs Munster|
|Sunday 1st March|
|Connacht 53 - 5 Treviso|
|Zebre 23 - 17 Dragons|
|Cardiff Blues 21 - 15 Edinburgh|
|Saturday 28th February|
|Munster 22 - 10 Glasgow Warriors|
|Friday 27th February|
|Ospreys 9 - 9 Leinster|
|Ulster 25 - 20 Scarlets|
|Sunday 22nd February|
|Dragons 25 - 30 Connacht|
|Saturday 21st February|
|Glasgow 19 - 16 Ospreys|
|Scarlets 25 - 25 Munster|
|Friday 20th February|
|Edinburgh 17 - 20 Ulster|
|Leinster 29 - 8 Zebre|
|Benetton Treviso 40 - 24 Cardiff Blues|
|Sunday 15th February|
|Leinster 14 - 16 Newport Gwent D'gons|
|Zebre 10 - 54 Glasgow|
|Scarlets 32 - 14 Connacht|
|Saturday 14th February|
|Munster 33 - 16 Cardiff Blues|
|Friday 13th February|
|Edinburgh 24 - 16 Ospreys|
|Ulster 43 - 3 Benetton Treviso|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com