Munster were forced into a change before the match even began as Conor Murray was injured in the warm-up, with Neil Cronin taking his place in the starting XV.
The visitors had the chance to get the first score of the game when they received a penalty, but debutant Conor Dean missed his kick.
Seven minutes on and Tyler Bleyendaal got Munster on the scoreboard thanks to a perfect penalty.
Connacht came close to scoring the game’s opening try moment later only for Dan Goggin to make a recovery tackle to deny them.
Finlay Bealham did get them on the board when he powered over in the 24 minute. Dean made no mistake with the kick to make it 7-3.
Stephen Fitzgerald denied Andrew Conway an intercept try, after the restart but Beirne gave the hosts the lead once more when he out-fought Niyi Adeolokun to touch down. Bleyendaal made it 10-7 with the conversion on the half-hour mark.
Munster scored again before half-time, with Conway releasing captain Peter O’Mahony who in turn sent Haley on his way to score his sides second try. Bleyendaal was perfect from the tee again to leave it at 17-7 going into half-time.
The second-half started much like the end of the first with Munster on the attack but a 56th minute Bleyendaal penalty was all they had to show for their dominance.
Connacht took full advantage of a Jeremy Loughman yellow-card when Eoin McKeon got in for a five-pointer with 10 minutes left on the clock. Dean converted and there were only six points in it.
However, four minutes later and Hanrahan broke through a gap in the defence to touch down and end any hopes of a Connacht comeback. He converted his own try to make it 27-14 and that’s how it ended.
Speaking after the game Munster out-half Bleyendaal was delighted to end the regular season on a win ahead of the play-offs.
“We made it tough at the end, but it was a really good performance and it was nice to build some momentum into the play-offs,” he said.
Munster now face Benetton in the quarter-finals next Saturday while Connacht face Ulster with all teams vying for the two semi-final spots.
Munster confirm Zebo signing
This co-funded contract will see Munster’s all-time record try-scorer return from Racing 92 and line out for his home club where he made 144 appearances and scored 60 tries between 2010 and 2018.
In his third season with the Top 14 side, the 31-year-old has played 55 times and scored 21 tries to date.
Head Coach Johann van Graan said, “The opportunity to bring Simon back to Munster came about in early April following a final review of our squad’s budgetary position for season-end and with assistance from the IRFU to support what we believe is a really good deal for Munster and Irish Rugby.
“Simon’s desire to return to Ireland and play with his home club is illustrated by his willingness to sign at a level below his market value elsewhere. This has made bringing the province’s all-time leading try-scorer back home, possible.”
Simon Zebo said, “I am thrilled and honoured to be coming back home to play for Munster. My family and I have been so lucky to have enjoyed three incredible years with Racing 92 in Paris and I cannot thank the team there enough, I really have made friends for life and take with me some brilliant memories.
“However, as everyone knows, Munster holds a very special place in my heart and I’ve always said that I wanted to play for them and potentially Ireland again, so when this opportunity arose the lure of being close to home, family and friends and Munster fans, it outweighed all other options. I cannot wait to get back to the HPC with the team and hopefully a packed Thomond Park.”
Ulster Rugby agree to release Coetzee early
Marcell Coetzee has played his last game for Ulster Rugby.
With back-row, Marcell Coetzee, currently side-lined with a hamstring injury, Ulster Rugby has agreed terms which will see the player released from the club at the end of this month, ahead of his planned departure at the conclusion of the 2020/21 season.
Given the need for several weeks of rehabilitation following the injury sustained by Coetzee in last month’s Guinness PRO14 fixture against Leinster, Ulster Rugby and the player have reached a mutual agreement to part ways on Friday 30 April.
Head of Rugby Operations and Recruitment, Bryn Cunningham, said: “We have come to an agreement that will allow Marcell the time and space required to continue his rehab.
Lowry retained at 10 for Ulster v Zebre
21-year-old, Cormac Izuchukwu will make his first start for the Ulster men as he is named in the second row alongside Kieran Treadwell. Marty Moore comes back into the starting front row at tighthead, with Eric O’Sullivan and John Andrew retaining their starting berths at loosehead and hooker. Jordi Murphy will captain the side at openside flanker, with Sean Reidy and David McCann being retained at blindside and Number Eight.
A youthful back line sees Ethan McIlroy coming into the back three at full-back, with Rob Lyttle on the left wing and Robert Baloucoune returning on the right. Stewart Moore and James Hume will make up the midfield pairing, while John Cooney and Michael Lowry are named at half-back.
Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor and Matty Rea are the forward reinforcements, with David Shanahan, Ian Madigan and Ben Moxham providing the back line options on the bench.
Ulster team to play Zebre Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Round 16, Friday 19 March at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports / eir Sport):
(15-9) Ethan McIlroy, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle, Michael Lowry, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, John Andrew, Marty Moore, Cormac Izuchukwu, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordy Murphy (Capt.), David McCann.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Matty Rea, David Shanahan, Ian Madigan, Ben Moxham.