Munster run nine tries past Sale in rampant second-half display

Anthony Foley’s side are out of Europe, but they finished on a high in Thomond Park.

Munster 65

Sale 10

Murray Kinsella reports from Thomond Park

MUNSTER FINISHED THEIR European season on a high note as they ran nine tries past Sale Sharks in a rampant second-half display at Thomond Park.

Paul O'Connell Paul O'Connell carries the ball in Limerick. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Regrets over the Pool 1 defeats at home to Clermont and away in Saracens will linger for the remainder of the season, but the stated goal of sending their faithful support home with smiles on their faces this evening was achieved.

Having struggled at times in the first half and led only 13-10 at the break, Anthony Foley’s side were hugely clinical thereafter. Replacement centres Ivan Dineen and Pat Howard made important impacts, while Paul O’Connell’s pack took full control to satisfy the 17,685 crowd.

Simon Zebo was man of the match with an energetic, incisive and free-running performance in the 15 shirt, while Keith Earls showed his value as the Six Nations approaches.

Sale were a shambles in defence for the closing quarter, but Munster got the morale-boosting win they needed.

Foley’s charges made the best possible start when Zebo finished off a sweeping attack in the right-hand corner after only two minutes. Ronan O’Mahony had burst up the left wing to initiate the move, before Tommy O’Donnell made a short carry.

Keatley then moved the ball to his backline, with Denis Hurley and Keith Earls teeing up Zebo to beat two tackles and dot down. Keatley’s sharp conversion sent Munster 7-0 ahead.

Simon Zebo scores the first try of the game Simon Zebo dots down for an early try. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

A high tackle allowed Keatley to stretch that lead by another three points shortly after, but Sale responded swiftly when Paul O’Connell was penalised for going off his feet and Nick MacLeod found the target with his first kick.

The tit-for-tat penalties continued immediately upon the restart as Sale blocked the Munster chasers and Keatley sent Munster into a 13-3 lead.

The frenetic opening exchanges were not over yet, however, with the visiting Sharks manufacturing a try of their own thanks to some weak Munster defening. A simple screen pass sent Tom Arscott scorching past Hurley’s outside shoulder and the left wing then handed off Keatley all too easily to touch down.

MacLeod’s conversion from wide on the left made it 13-10 and Andrew Conway was in the sin bin minutes later as he failed to roll away at a defensive ruck, referee Marius Mitrea losing his patience after an accumulation of offences.

Captain O’Mahony came up with a crucial turnover as Sale hammered the Munster tryline with their numerical advantage.

Keatley continued to struggle in defence and those errors found their way into his kicking game too, as he missed a penalty from a central position and then failed to find touch as Munster looked to set up an ideal attacking platform in the Sale 22.

There was no further scoring in the opening half, one which became increasingly ill tempered. The impressive James Cronin got involved on several occasions, while O’Mahony was evidently fired up too.

Keith Earls hands off Luke McLean to run in for a try Earls' try was a sensational effort. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The minor skirmishes did at least serve to increase Munster’s aggression levels, with the likes of Conway and Keith Earls delivering some thumping hits before the break.

The mood likely simmered away in livid fashion in the changing room, as Munster burst out of the blocks in the second half. Zebo grabbed a poor kick out of the air, Tommy O’Donnell surged up the left and then Munster’s centre pairing combined wonderfully.

Ivan Dineen stepped inside Vili Fihaki and then offloaded out of the tackle to Earls arriving on a superb line. From halfway, the Munster outside centre turned Sale fullback Luke McLean inside out, fending his desperate tackle attempt off to score.

TMO Eric Gonthier confirmed the score and Keatley converted to send Munster into the ascendancy. Thereafter, the Sale challenge fell away as Foley’s side grew increasingly confident with their use of possession.

The forwards dominated for the next try, first having a close-range maul held up over the tryline, but then shunting the Sale pack five metres back to win a 54th-minute penalty try, which Keatley again converted.

Munster had to wait ten minutes for their next try, the hard-working replacement centre Pat Howard taking a clever inside pass from Keatley to gallop in under the posts, the out-half adding the extras.

The 68th minute brought try number five as Zebo rolled in over from a metre out, with Dineen having made the initial break inside Mark Easter and run 35 metres to lay the foundation. Keatley missed the touchline conversion, but Munster were rampant by now.

Pat Howard scores their fourth try Pat Howard got in on the act in the second half. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Zebo made a huge burst up the right-hand touchline a minute later, drawing in the final defender and sending Conway stumbling over the tryline. Northampton-bound JJ Hanrahan, on for Keatley at out-half, struck the post with the subsequent kick to leave the score at 44-10.

Tommy O’Donnell was next over for Munster, crashing in with help from the leeching Cronin, with Hanrahan on target with his second conversion. Duncan Williams got in on the scoring too, benefiting from a Stephen Archer break and offload to finish another move as Sale’s defence contined to disintegrate.

Hanrahan’s conversion took Munster’s lead to 58-10 as Simon Zebo was named man of the match, but there was still time for a ninth try, Conway providing the finish after yet another searing Zebo linebreak had freed Hanrahan.

Munster scorers:

Tries: Simon Zebo [2], Keith Earls, Penalty Try, Pat Howard, Andrew Conway [2], Tommy O’Donnell, Duncan Williams

Conversions: Ian Keatley [4 from 5], JJ Hanrahan [3 from 4]

Penalties: Ian Keatley [2 from 3]

Sale scorers:

Tries: Tom Arscott

Conversions: Nick MacLeod [1 from 1]

Penalties: Nick MacLeod [1 from 1]

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway (yellow card ’18 to ’28), Keith Earls (Pat Howard ’44), Denis Hurley (Ivan Dineen ’23), Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan ’69), Duncan Williams; James Cronin (John Ryan ’64), Duncan Casey (Eusebio Guinazu ’66), BJ Botha (Stephen Archer ’64); Dave Foley (Billy Holland ’40), Paul O’Connell; Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, Peter O’Mahony (capt.) (Paddy Butler ’64).

SALE SHARKS: Luke McLean; Tom Brady, Mark Jennings, Andy Forsyth, Tom Arscott; Nick Macleod, Will Cliff (Nathan Fowles ’63); Alberto de Marchi (James Flynn ’43), Tommy Taylor (Cameron Neild ’63), Ross Harrison (Ciaran Parker ’70); Andrei Ostrikov, Josh Beaumont; Mark Easter (David Seymour ’70), David Seymour (capt.) (George Nott ’63), Viliami Fihaki (Andrew Hughes ’53).

Replacements not used: Joe Ford, Mike Haley.

Referee: Marius Mitrea [FIR].

Attendance: 17,685.

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