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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
|Sunday 28th December|
|14:00||Zebre vs Treviso|
|Thursday 1st January|
|14:05||Dragons vs Cardiff Blues|
|17:00||Connacht vs Munster|
|Friday 2nd January|
|19:35||Edinburgh vs Glasgow Warriors|
|Saturday 3rd January|
|14:00||Treviso vs Zebre|
|14:40||Leinster vs Ulster|
|17:05||Scarlets vs Ospreys|
|Friday 9th January|
|19:35||Connacht vs Edinburgh|
|19:35||Glasgow vs Scarlets|
|Saturday 10th January|
|14:40||Cardiff Blues vs Leinster|
|15:00||Zebre vs Munster|
|Sunday 11th January|
|14:00||Treviso vs Ulster|
|16:00||Ospreys vs Newport Gwent D'gons|
|Wednesday 14th January|
|TBC||Leinster vs Newport Gwent D'gons|
|TBC||Munster vs Cardiff Blues|
|TBC||Scarlets vs Connacht|
|TBC||Zebre vs Glasgow|
|TBC||Edinburgh vs Ospreys|
|TBC||Ulster vs Benetton Treviso|
|Saturday 21st February|
|TBC||Benetton Treviso vs Cardiff Blues|
|TBC||Edinburgh vs Ulster|
|TBC||Newport Gwent D'gons vs Connacht|
|TBC||Leinster vs Zebre|
|14:40||Scarlets vs Munster|
|17:15||Glasgow vs Ospreys|
|Saturday 27th December|
|Ospreys 17 - 15 Scarlets|
|Glasgow Warriors 16 - 6 Edinburgh|
|Friday 26th December|
|Ulster 13 - 10 Connacht|
|Munster 28 - 13 Leinster|
|Cardiff Blues 17 - 23 Dragons|
|Sunday 21st December|
|Dragons 25 - 11 Zebre|
|Saturday 20th December|
|Ospreys 31 - 20 Ulster|
|Glasgow Warriors 21 - 18 Munster|
|Friday 19th December|
|Cardiff Blues 21 - 9 Scarlets|
|Edinburgh 48 - 0 Treviso|
|Leinster 21 - 11 Connacht|
|Sunday 30th November|
|Glasgow Warriors 19 - 15 Dragons|
|Saturday 29th November|
|Connacht 14 - 8 Scarlets|
|Leinster 18 - 12 Ospreys|
|Zebre 18 - 10 Edinburgh|
|Friday 28th November|
|Cardiff Blues 36 - 25 Treviso|
|Munster 21 - 20 Ulster|
|Sunday 23rd November|
|Edinburgh 28 - 13 Cardiff Blues|
|Treviso 24 - 24 Leinster|
|Friday 21st November|
|Ulster 25 - 16 Ospreys|
|Connacht 43 - 3 Zebre|
|Scarlets 19 - 9 Glasgow Warriors|
|Dragons 12 - 38 Munster|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com