MUNSTER 46 CONNACHT 7, Musgrave Park
Scorers: Munster: Tries: Maeve Óg O'Leary, Dorothy Wall, Deirbhile Nic a Bháird 2, Kate Flannery, Alana McInerney, Aoife Doyle, Fiona Reidy; Cons: Kate Flannery 3
Connacht: Tries: Clara Barrett; Cons: Nicole Fowley
HT: Munster 24 Connacht 7
Title holders Munster are safely through to next month's Vodafone Women's Interprovincial Championship final after running eight tries past Connacht in a 46-7 win at Musgrave Park.
Niamh Briggs' side faced into the wind in the first half but reeled off four tries to lead 24-7, with the young Connacht team briefly level through Clara Barrett's opportunist 20th-minute effort.
Maeve Óg O'Leary scored the hosts' opening try and had a hand in captain Dorothy Wall's score, and her subsequent sin-binning was sandwiched by five-pointers from influential pair Deirbhile Nic a Bháird and Kate Flannery.
Connacht had to cope with a yellow for hooker Lily Brady and their challenge petered out as the table toppers piled on the points. Vodafone player-of-the-match Nic a Bháird notched a second try and Alana McInerney, Aoife Doyle and Fiona Reidy also crossed the whitewash.
The result means Munster (on 10 points) are guaranteed to finish in the top two and are through to the final with one round still to go. They travel to arch rivals Leinster in next Saturday's third round, with the Blues (6) and Connacht (4) both in contention for a spot in the decider.
Both defences gave little away early on in Cork, with Shannon Touhey twice doing well to retain scrum possession for Connacht despite the pressure coming from the Munster pack.
The visitors emerged scoreless from three lineout opportunities inside the opposition 22. Nic a Bháird forced a relieving penalty at the breakdown and Clodagh O'Halloran also pinched one of Brady's throws.
Karly Tierney did likewise as Nic a Bháird also struggled at times to connect with her jumpers, but once Munster began to get over the gain-line, they opened the scoring in the 13th minute. First, the backs threatened with Stephanie Carroll, last week's hat-trick heroine in Armagh, gobbled up space out wide.
The home forwards needed no second invitation, chipping away with their carries closer in before Tipperary native O'Leary drove low, grounding the ball under the posts despite the attempts of Barrett and Nicole Fowley to deny her. Out-half Flannery converted.
Carroll came to Eimear Considine's rescue after the returning Munster full-back had to deal with a tricky Fowley kick. Connacht quickly came hunting again, though, as Fowley chipped over the defensive line, the ball hitting the post padding and bouncing up for centre Barrett to gleefully touch down.
The wind toppled the ball from the tee twice for Sligo native Fowley who coolly drop-kicked the levelling conversion through the uprights. Nonetheless, Munster wasted little time in responding as their forwards took up the baton.
O'Leary proved tough to bring down as she made huge ground up towards the Connacht whitewash, and the neatly recycled ball was fed to Wall who thundered through a tackle from Touhey and showed very good strength to get the grounding. Flannery's low conversion clear the crossbar for a 14-7 advantage.
The lead was extended further on the half hour mark, as Connacht struggled to cope with a bulldozing maul and then Wall's midfield charge. Nic a Bháird exploited a gap to the right of the posts, accelerating through for an unconverted score.
Connacht went close to responding, battering away after O'Leary's yellow for being slow to roll away. On her first start, Faith Oviawe shrugged off two defenders but her offload was intercepted by Flannery, and Munster were back to their clinical best just before half-time.
Loosehead Róisín Ormond stretched her legs on a terrific 60-metre burst, with the chasing Fowley having to bring her down just five metres out. The fast-thinking Flannery went quickly from a penalty soon after to score, with Connacht losing Brady to the bin as well.
Captain Fowley to try to inspire her side on the resumption, her try-saving tackle on Wall coming after a big carry from Eilís Cahill. Yet, Munster drove the Connacht scrum backwards and a clever move off a maul saw Nic a Bháird bump Olivia Haverty aside to complete her brace.
Try number six followed just three minutes later, as McInerney was released for the right corner by well-timed passes from Muirne Wall and Stephanie Nunan. Carroll broke from deep as Munster continued to create openings in the wet conditions.
Now 36-7 behind, Connacht hit back with replacements Maria Kelleher and Orla Dixon winning a clearing penalty near their own try-line, only for Munster's own bench to create their next score.
Jane Clohessy carried strongly and linked with Abbie Salter-Townshend and Considine who put Ireland winger Doyle over near the left corner. The red shirts continued to find gaps, this time Flannery breaking through the middle but she lacked support.
The reigning champions' pack continued to land blows, winning a scrum against the head. 18-year-old hooker Beth Buttimer attacked off a Munster maul and almost crowned her debut with a try.
Instead it went to veteran prop Reidy who drove over a couple of phases later, widening the margin to 39 points in the end. Connacht battled on, Méabh Deely's hopeful kick out to the left failing to find the arms of Barrett, but they still have plenty to play for against Ulster in Galway next week.
TIME LINE: 13 minutes - Munster try: Maeve Óg O'Leary - 5-0; conversion: Kate Flannery - 7-0; 20 mins - Connacht try: Clara Barrett - 7-5; conversion: Nicole Fowley - 7-7; 23 mins - Munster try: Dorothy Wall - 12-7; conversion: Kate Flannery - 14-7; 29 mins - Munster try: Deirbhile Nic a Bháird - 19-7; conversion: missed by Kate Flannery - 19-7; 34 mins - Munster yellow card: Maeve Óg O'Leary; 38 mins - Munster try: Kate Flannery - 24-7; conversion: missed by Kate Flannery - 24-7; 38 mins - Connacht yellow card: Lily Brady; Half-time - Munster 24 Connacht 7; 48 mins - Munster try: Deirbhile Nic a Bháird - 29-7; conversion: Kate Flannery - 31-7; 51 mins - Munster try: Alana McInerney - 36-7; conversion: missed by Kate Flannery - 36-7; 64 mins - Munster try: Aoife Doyle - 41-7; conversion: missed by Kate Flannery - 41-7; 73 mins - Munster try: Fiona Reidy - 46-7; conversion: missed by Kate Flannery - 46-7; Full-time - Munster 46 Connacht 7
MUNSTER: Eimear Considine; Aoife Doyle, Alana McInerney, Stephanie Nunan, Stephanie Carroll; Kate Flannery, Muirne Wall; Róisín Ormond, Ciara Farrell, Fiona Reidy, Dorothy Wall (capt), Clodagh O’Halloran, Chloe Pearse, Maeve Óg O’Leary, Deirbhile Nic a Bháird.
Replacements used: Eilís Cahill for Reidy (33 mins), Beth Buttimer for Farrell, Claire Bennett for D Wall (both 59), Abbie Salter-Townshend for M Wall (61), Jane Clohessy for Nic a Bháird, Ellen Boylan for McInerney (both 62), Brianna Heylmann for O'Leary, Heather Kennedy for Carroll, Reidy for Ormond (all 65).
CONNACHT: Méabh Deely; Ava Ryder, Clara Barrett, Kayla Waldron, Laoise McGonagle; Nicole Fowley (capt), Olivia Haverty; Grainne O’Loughlin, Lily Brady, Shannon Heapes, Sonia McDermott, Faith Oviawe, Orla Fenton, Karly Tierney, Shannon Touhey.
Replacements used: Stacy Hanley for Fenton (40-47 mins), Niamh O'Grady for O'Loughlin (half-time), Ivana Kiripati for Oviawe (49), Maria Kelleher for Waldron, Orla Dixon for McGonagle (both 53), Dearbhla Canty for Heapes (65), Cliodhna O'Sullivan for Fowley (68), Hanley for Brady, Mollie Starr for McDermott (both 69).
Referee: Christopher Lough (IRFU)