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Munster cruise past Sharks

Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway both crossed twice as Munster dominated their Champions Cup dead rubber against a young Sale outfit at Thomond Park.

Both sides were out of the running in Pool One, but the Irish province salvaged some pride with a runaway 65-10 bonus-point victory that included eight second-half tries.

An early Zebo effort launched Munster towards a 10-0 lead, before the stubborn Sharks rallied with a tremendous Tom Arscott score and just three points separated the sides at the break - 13-10.

However, after Keith Earls crowned his first start of the season with an excellent individual try and a penalty try was added, the floodgates were well and truly opened as Pat Howard, Zebo, Andrew Conway (two), Tommy O'Donnell and Duncan Williams all touched down between the 65th and 80th minutes.

Zebo, who shifted to full-back, reserves some of his best European performances for round six, including memorable hat-tricks against Northampton Saints (2012) and Racing Metro 92 (2013). He was on the scoresheet here within 90 seconds, stepping inside Arscott and stretching over to score past two covering defenders.

Ian Keatley was keen to press his claims for the Ireland number 10 jersey, nailing a difficult first conversion from the right and quickly adding a penalty. Nick Macleod duly got Sale off the mark, but obstruction at the restart saw Keatley immediately respond.

The Munster fly-half blotted his copybook, though, when allowing Arscott to fend him off near the left touchline as the Sale winger ran in a terrific solo try from outside the Munster 22. Macleod's conversion made it a three-point game.

The visitors made further inroads thanks to a series of sloppy Munster penalties. Referee Marius Mitrea lost his patience when Conway killed the ball near his try-line and the wing was promptly sin-binned.

The scores dried up during a niggly second quarter as Sale failed to take advantage of their numerical advantage and Keatley pushed a 41-metre penalty wide.

But Earls lit up the second half with a try in the opening minute, taking a great line to gather an Ivan Dineen offload, dashing clear over halfway and finding a way past covering full-back Luke McLean. Television match official Eric Gonthier confirmed the grounding and Keatley converted for 20-10.

The Munster pack took over approaching the hour mark, winning a penalty try from a dominant five-metre scrum. Keatley converted but some brilliant breakdown work saw Sale slow the province's bonus-point push.

That was until Keatley's inviting inside pass released South African Howard for a very well-taken score under the posts. Zebo then completed his brace with an opportunist try, cleverly rolling from the back of a close-in ruck to reach over and make it 39-10.

As replacement Ivan Dineen and Ronan O'Mahony increased their influence, Munster showed no mercy to the demoralised Sharks. Dineen and Zebo combined to send Conway clear, flanker O'Donnell crashed over from close range and prop Stephen Archer provided the initial break and the scoring pass for Williams' touchdown.

There was still time for Zebo to break through the tired Sale defence and supply the assist for Conway's second try. Replacement JJ Hanrahan's third successful conversion gave Munster their highest ever score in European rugby - beating their 64 points in a 64-0 win over Viadana in December 2002.

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