A six try 37-14 victory over Sale Sharks at a packed and vibrant Thomond Park Stadium ensured Munster qualification for the knock out stages of the Heineken Cup for a record 11th successive season
And in the process they served notice that it will require a massive effort to relieve them of their title.
They led 12-6 at half time thanks to tries from the colossus Paul O’Connell and the hugely impressive Jerry Flannery and within 30 seconds of the restart they had extended their lead with a David Wallace try converted by Ronan O’Gara.
However, Sale Sharks came right back into it with a Luke McAllister penalty and breakaway try from Charlie Hodgson but Munster responded like the champions they are and ran in further tries from Ian Dowling, Tomas O’Leary and Paul Warwick.
Munster went into the game with doubts raised that supposedly sketchy recent performances would leave them vulnerable to the bang in-form English side but right from the kick-off they quickly allayed those fears.
They varied their game wonderfully with O’Connell leading the pack from the front and when they put width on the ball the Sharks defence was regularly stretched.
It started with an Earls break in the fourth minute that ended – after O’Gara had fearlessly secured the loose ball – with a spectaculer dive over a ruck by the skipper to dot down on the line.
Charlie Hodgson landed a seventh minute penalty but five mniutes later after a multi phased movement involving backs and forwards Jerry Flannery turned up on the wing to take David Wallace’s pass and score on the right. O’Gara added the touchline conversion before Luke McAllister took over the kicking duties to land a penalty and leave his side just six points adrift at the break.
Wallace’s early second half try was converted by O’Gara but a McAllister penalty in the 50th minute followed by a Hodgson try offered Sale a glimmer of hope.
It lasted all of six minutes because when Hodgson failed to cope with a clever O’Gara kick, Dowling was on hand to gather the fumble and score the bonus point try.
Try number five came from O’Leary when the Sale pack came under pressure from a five metre scrum and Warwick sealed a superb personal performance when he took a quick tap penalty to score on the right.
Munster: P Warwick, D Howlett, K Earls (D Hurley 76 min), L Mafi, I Dowling, R O’Gara (B Murphy 75 min), T O’Leary (P Stringer 72 min), M Horan, J Flannery (D Fogarty 76 min), J Hayes, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell capt, A Quinlan (D Ryan 55 min), D Wallace, D Leamy (N Ronan 71 min)
Yellow Card – J Flannery (19)
Sale Sharks: M Cueto, C Bell, A Tuilagi (R Keil 27 min), L McAlister, D Doherty, C Hodgson (M Tait 60 min), R Wigglesworth (D Peel 49 min), L Faure (A Sheridan 45 min), M Jones (L Abrahams 57 min), E Lewis-Roberts (S Turner 75 min), S Chabal, D Schofield (B Cockbain 46 min), C Jones, N Briggs, J Fernandez Lobbe capt.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)