Andrew Conway scored a brace of tries as Munster took advantage of two first-half red cards for opponents Connacht to reach the PRO14 semi-finals thanks to a 49-12 bonus-point win.
Debutant Connacht number eight Abraham Papali’i was sent off for a 25th-minute high tackle on Conor Murray, while – nine minutes later – hooker Shane Delahunt saw red after leading with an elbow into CJ Stander’s neck.
Munster punished Conor Oliver’s early sin-binning with a seventh-minute Chris Cloete try and a penalty try before prop Jeremy Loughman added a third, while Connacht replacement Bundee Aki replied to make it 21-7 at half-time.
Recovering from two yellows of their own, Munster went on to dominate the second half as they climbed back above Scarlets into second place in Conference B.
Tries from man-of-the-match Tadhg Beirne, Conway (2) and James Cronin dwarfed a Jonny Murphy effort as Johann van Graan’s men set up a last-four clash with old foes Leinster back at the Aviva Stadium next Friday.
Profiting from Connacht’s poor discipline, Munster cemented their early dominance after flanker Oliver was guilty of going off his feet. Cloete touched down from a textbook lineout maul and JJ Hanrahan scored the first of his five conversions.
Connacht’s seven-man pack coughed up a 15th-minute penalty try from a five-metre scrum, with Munster tighthead John Ryan to the fore. It was a nightmare start but the westerners gradually bounced back.
New Zealander Papali’i managed to steal possession from CJ Stander and also carried strongly but that good work was undone when he tackled Murray with what referee Frank Murphy adjudged was a shoulder to the head, in consultation with TMO Olly Hodges.
Following the double dismissal – and amid some inconsistent breakdown calls from Murphy – Loughman provided a smart finish after 36 minutes, bouncing off a couple of tackles with Hanrahan converting.
Yellow cards for Munster captain Peter O’Mahony and Beirne near their own line evened up the numbers at 13 each, late on, and Connacht grabbed a well-taken try from Aki, who powered in between a couple of front rowers.
Yet, the concession of three tries in a five-minute spell had Connacht heads dropping.
Beirne picked up a 49th-minute bonus point when running a clever line inside Aki.
Hanrahan converted and also added the extras to a quick-fire Conway brace with the best of the afternoon’s tries seeing Beirne brilliantly link with Chris Farrell and Damian De Allende before supporting winger Conway finished off the long-range break.
Conway soon took his haul to four tries in two games when chasing down a Hanrahan kick in the right corner.
Munster replacement Cronin and Connacht hooker Murphy also swapped close-range scores with replacement Rory Scannell keeping up the winners’ 100 per cent return from the tee.
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