Paul O’Connell put in a man-of-the-match performace on his return for Munster as they beat Connacht 22-0 in the RaboDirect PRO12 in Musgrave Park on Saturday night.
But Munster will hope their inability to pick up a bonus point does not come back to haunt the province in their bid to secure a top four place.
Munster bagged three tries – including one from Man of the Match Paul O’Connell on his first appearance in the side since October – but the bonus point score eluded Rob Penney’s men before an attendance of 8,203.
Sixth-placed Munster are seven points off a semi-final place with just four series of games to go. Next up for Penney’s men is a difficult away fixture against Glasgow at Scotstoun on Good Friday (8.05pm).
While Munster – who also had a brace of tries from hooker Damien Varley – will feel a degree of frustration at their inability to pick up a maximum five-point haul from the interprovincial clash, O’Connell’s return to the side is a huge boost with the mammoth Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Harlequins at the Stoop on April 7 looming large.
Paul O’Connell said: “It is great to be back, great to have that buzz. For the past few months, I have been either doing physio or rehab every Friday. Yesterday was the first Friday I had the full day off relaxing and thinking about a game. That was a great feeling.
“Luckily the rain stayed off and we were able to play a bit of rugby. That is probably what I need most is fast games like that with a lot of running. It was enjoyable, tough on the lungs, but enjoyable.”
O’Connell insisted that his focus right now is concentrated on playing well for Munster and not on his prospects of making this summer’s Lions tour to Australia.
“I am just happy to get back playing with Munster,” O’Connell said.
“That is all I want to do, play as well as I can for Munster for as long as I can. That is my only focus.”
SCORERS – Munster: Damien Varley two tries, Paul O’Connell try, Ronan O’Gara two cons, one pen.
MUNSTER – Felix Jones; Doug Howlett (capt), Casey Laulala, James Downey, Denis Hurley; Ronan O’Gara, Cathal Sheridan; David Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Tommy O’Donnell, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan. Replacements: Duncan Williams for Sheridan (58 mins), Niall Ronan for O’Donnell, Mike Sherry for Varley (both 60 mins), BJ Botha for Archer, Billy Holland for Dougall (both 61 mins), Ivan Dinneen for Downey (64 mins), Ian Keatley for Jones (70 mins), Wian du Preez for Kilcoyne (73 mins).
CONNACHT – Robbie Henshaw; Danie Poolman, Eoin Griffin, Brian Murphy, Gavin Duffy (capt); Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White, Michael Kearney, George Naoupu, Andrew Browne, Willie Faloon, John Muldoon. Replacements: Denis Buckley for Wilkinson, Mike McCarthy for Naoupu (both 48 mins), Ronan Loughney for White (52 mins), Adrian Flavin for Harris-Wright (54 mins), Paul O’Donohoe for Marmion (56 mins), Fetu’u Vainikolo for Poolman (59 mins), Eoin McKeon for Muldoon (64 mins), Miah Nikora for Parks (69 mins).
REFEREE – Alain Rolland (IRFU)