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Darren O'Shea's 19th-minute try had the hosts, who had lost their two previous interprovincial clashes, 10-6 ahead at half-time with Jack Carty kicking two penalties for Connacht.

The much-changed westerners were in contention until Andrew Conway's opportunist 53rd-minute try - following on from Ian Keatley's second penalty of the night - which widened the margin to 14 points.

Quinn Roux's tip tackle on Keith Earls, the scorer of Munster's third try, could easily have been a red card for the Connacht lock rather than a yellow, and a trademark close-range brace from Conor Murray hammered home his team's advantage before Tom McCartney replied late on for the visitors.

Buoyed by winning six points from their other two festive interpro fixtures, Connacht were the better side in the opening minutes in Limerick. Out-half Carty swung over a peach of a penalty from the right wing, following Niyi Adeolokun's initial break.

Munster gradually improved and went ahead midway through the first half. Simon Zebo's clever kick through set up a lineout opportunity, and following a high-tempo set of phases which saw the returning Chris Farrell go close, second row O'Shea hurtled onto man-of-the-match Conor Oliver's short pass to cross to the left of the posts. Keatley converted before Carty closed the gap after Farrell was pinged for not releasing.

Conor Carey and Dave Kilcoyne were both guilty of boring in at times as neither pack wanted to give an inch at scrum time, and the breakdown was also a fiercely-contested area of the game. Some decent attacking, coupled with Connacht captain John Muldoon going off his feet, saw Keatley make it 10-6 on the half hour mark.

Kieran Keane's men were unable to profit from a strong start to the second period, and Munster had the rub of the green in the third quarter, Muldoon being whistled up again by referee David Wilkinson and Keatley split the posts with his second successful penalty.

A pass to Earls in the build-up to Conway's try looked forward, but play was allowed to continue and the latter followed up on a well-weighted bouncing kick from Keatley to touch down just ahead of the covering Tiernan O'Halloran.

Minus their Ireland internationals and some other frontliners, Connacht's challenge seemed to run out of steam as Munster impressively marched to their bonus point. Now bubbling with attacking intent, Earls was released for the left corner after some neat midfield interplay between Keatley and Conway, before Roux's dangerous challenge on the try scorer, three minutes later, left Connacht down to 14 men.

With James Cronin adding a physical edge off the bench, the Munster pack continued to get over the gain-line and the ever-alert Murray stretched out for the whitewash twice after 63 and 69 minutes, with Keatley completing his 14-point haul from the tee.

Busy scrum half James Mitchell was the pick of Connacht's replacements, helping to reignite their play once they were back to their full complement. He dribbled through and was tackled five metres out before Cillian Gallagher's one-handed pass put hooker McCartney over for a consolation try, converted by Craig Ronaldson.

Giving his reaction afterwards, Connacht head coach Keane said: "We got a poor second tonight. We probably got hurt by the yellow card. With a 14-point break during the yellow, they opened us up. I think we got shocked by that a bit. Hadn't really played a lot of rugby up until then which was hurting us in the first half and we weren't building pressure there. It was a tough day for those young fellas.

"We didn't play much rugby in the first half, we played safe rugby and that's not our style. It's not what we want to do. We're a bit disappointed by that first half, felt we could have done a lot better. We're always trying to do better and things won't change. We'll knuckle down, we'll be a bit wounded by this, but it'll bring some new life and we'll have to treat it that way.

"It is a big ask (playing two interpros in five days), particularly for us perhaps. We don't quite have the depth of numbers other sides do. But I'm not here to make excuses. We knew what was needed. We rotated our squad as best we could.

"We had to take out some influential players and gave the opportunity to some young ones. Was it too big an ask? Ah, it'll hold us in good stead on the positive side. But we got a bang on the nose tonight and we just have to recover from it as a lesson."

With his charges bouncing back from disappointing losses to Leinster (34-24) and Ulster (24-17), Munster boss Johann van Graan commented: "I am very pleased with the result, the bonus point and the team performance. There were some brilliant performances by individuals and I was very happy with the five tries - although I felt we left a few out there in the first half.

"Conor Oliver's performance was exceptional. Coming on the back of Chris Cloete having some brilliant games at openside, I was very pleased for Conor to come back after injury and such a long time out of the game. His ball-carrying and line-speed was great.

"'Keats' is playing some of the best rugby of his life. He's got confidence, he's kicking well out of hand, he took the ball quite well to the line and made some very good calls. He is obviously one of the leaders in our team and together with Conor (Murray) and 'Zeebs' at the back, the main decision-makers in our back-line did well.

"It was kind of a 60-minute performance but you have also to give credit to Connacht. They came out firing and there were a lot of big hits in the first 20 minutes. They contributed to a very good contest, although maybe the score ballooned towards the end."
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