Conor Murray burrowed over for two second half tries as Munster cantered to a 39-13 victory over Connacht at Thomond Park on Saturday night.
Having surrendered a 17-point lead against Ulster the last time out and suffered a home defeat against Leinster on St. Stephen's Day, Munster were seeking to avoid an unlikely whitewash in the Christmas inter-provincial series.
They started gingerly enough and scraped their way to a 10-6 lead by the halfway mark. However, tries early in the second half from Andrew Conway, capitalising on a bounce of the ball which wrong-footed Tiernan O'Halloran, and the livewire Keith Earls opened up a substantial gaps between the sides.
With Connacht reduced to 14 men following Quinn Roux's sin-binning, Conor Murray finished off two tries in identical fashion to secure the bonus point.
Connacht hooker Tom McCartney touched down in the corner for a consolation score after a couple of offloads from Tiernan O'Halloran and James Mitchell opened up space out wide.
The visitors started brightly with Jack Carty stroking over an early penalty. They maintained the 3-0 lead until the 19th minute.
Their lineout misfired on the halfway line, with McCartney over-shooting the Connacht jumpers and tossing the ball straight into John Ryan's arms.
From there, Munster built an attack, pummeling their way into the Connacht 22, with Chris Farrell breaking a tackle and requiring two defenders to put him down five metres from the line. With the visitors defence hopelessly stretched, Conor Oliver stepped in to feed Darren O'Shea, who barreled through a despairing tackle from Cillian Gallagher and falling over the line.
Little to threaten either try lines so far until @DarrenOShea came powering through.— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) January 6, 2018
The 🦌 @Munsterrugby second-rower meets the ball and bowls his way over for a try.
Catch it live on @TG4TV.#MUNvCON #GUINNESSPRO14 pic.twitter.com/TnN9xdcQ6l
Keatley slipped over the conversion but Jack Carty reduced the gap to a point again after Farrell was penalised for not releasing.
John Muldoon, who was visibly frustrated by David Wilkinson's refereeing, conceded the next two penalties either side of half-time, as Munster established a seven point gap on the scoreboard.
First the second row was penalised for going off his feet after an impressive Munster attack the half-hour mark. This prompted the Ulster official to pull the two captains aside and tell them the defending was too "negative" for his liking.
And after the break, Muldoon was penalised as he attempted to execute a turnover and failed to let go after a ruck had been formed. The Connacht captain tossed his hands in the air in annoyance but the penalty resulted and Keatley slotted it over.
The game was ended in the subsequent eight minutes as Munster's backline, most especially Keith Earls, took wing and plundered two tries.
Straight from the re-start, Earls embarked on a mazy run from his own 22, slaloming between the leaden-footed Connacht defenders. He booted the ball down-field. It was re-gathered by Connacht but was soon turned over in the visitors' territory.
From the resulting move down the right-wing, Keatley side-footed a grubber kick for Conway and Earls to chase after.
O'Halloran seemed to have the ball covered but the bouncing grubber wrong-footed him and Conway seized the moment, darting inside the Connacht winger and appearing to touch the ball down ahead of him.
The TMO, after looking at the finish from several angles, eventually sided with the referee's first instincts and awarded the try.
Five minutes later, Conway collected a Keatley offload and scampered into open space, flinging the ball wide to Keith Earls who dived over in the corner for the simplest of finishes.
Earls was the central figure in the next drama on 62 minutes as he was tip-tackled following a loose lineout by Connacht lock Quinn Roux. This triggered a brief ruckus as the Munster players took exception to the dangerous looking challenge.
After consulting with the video referee, Wilkinson concluded that Earls landed on his shoulder rather than his head, and satisfied himself with the yellow card.
Connacht were really taking water now, and Conor Murray plundered two tries in that ten minute spell when the visitors were reduced to 14. On both occasions, he stooped and burrowed over from very close range after bullocking work from the Munster forwards carried them to within inches of the line.
.@connachtrugby leave it until the dying minutes to get a try and it's hooker Tom McCartney finding himself in foreign territory who gets the five points for the visitors.#MUNvCON #GUINNESSPRO14 pic.twitter.com/AT9tHWYWEj— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) January 6, 2018
The away side rustled up a rather entertaining and offload-heavy consolation score, with replacement James Mitchell somehow keeping the move alive after Tiernan O'Halloran speculative offload landed on his boot.
Mitchell kicked the ball on a couple of times, it skittled forward and bounced into his hands, and he tossed an offload in Darragh Leader's direction. With Munster's defence thus stretched, the ball was fed through multiple hands before hooker Tom McCartney fell over the line in the corner for the consolation score.