Munster secured a bonus point win over an error-strewn Zebre side in Italy this evening in what was a far-from-convincing performance.
Johann van Graan was forced into a change before the game with Bill Johnston replacing JJ Hanrahan due to illness but the South African will have been pleased to welcome back Chris Farrell and Conor Murray to his side ahead of the visit of Edinburgh to Cork in five days time.
Zebre looked the more threatening side in the opening minutes with the pace of their backline causing Munster problems. However, it was their own errors that prevented them for scoring any points in the first half while a none-too-convincing Munster stormed into a 17-point win at half-time.
Cronin made a nice break, almost putting Arno Botha through for the first try but was denied by decent scrambling defence from Zebre. The province went through the phases and with advantage on their side, Gavin Coombes displayed some brilliant footwork and excellent hands to offload to Alex Wootton in the corner but the winger knocked it forward in the process of touching the ball down and play was brought back for the penalty. With momentum firmly on their side, Johnston kicked to the corner and Fineen Wycherley crashed over the line with the young outhalf easily adding the extras.
Munster power their way over after 15 minutes.
— eir Sport (@eirSport) November 25, 2018
Kevin O’Byrne was penalised for playing the ball off his feet on the halfway line and the Italian side found themselves deep inside the Munster 22. Despite a rocky lineout, they set up a good attack but Munster’s defence remained discipline. Botha stripped the ball from Giovanni Licata and Cronin relieved the pressure.
Despite enjoying much of the possession, the Zebre performance was strewn with handling errors, much to the despair of the crowd and Munster capitalised. The home side were pinged for being offside, allowing Johann van Graan’s men to set up a fresh attack. Jeremy Loughman and Mike Haley almost broke away but Haley couldn’t offload and the effort fizzled out. However, they had advantage and though they lost the ball in the lineout, they soon regained possession and Cronin fed Kevin O’Byrne for his third try for the province.
Munster were far from the perfect outfit. With minutes remaining in the first half, they found themselves with another potential scoring opportunity but Cronin kicked away possession, allowing Zebre to make to force Munster back. Ronan O’Mahony then knocked on a pass from Johnston and soon, the home side were the threatening team. Munster eventually turned over possession and were awarded a penalty when the referee deemed that Zebre were, again, offside. In heavy conditions, Johnston brilliantly nailed the kick from almost 50 metres out to leave Munster 17 points adrift of Zebre at half-time.
HT: Zebre 0-17 Munster.
Bill Johnston kicks a superb penalty on the stroke of half-time to put Munster further ahead.
— eir Sport (@eirSport) November 25, 2018
Though they continued to dominate possession and opportunities, Munster remained unimpressive at the start of the second half. A period of scrappy play at the breakdown from the province eventually resulted in a scrum for Zebre. The ball was kicked down-field and Haley called the mark but failed to find touch. Much to the pleasure of the travelling Munster faithful, they were handed a huge boost on the 50th-minute mark when both Chris Farrell and Conor Murray were introduced with the impressive Johnston and Cronin departing and Bleyendaal was restored to outhalf.
Munster went back to basics and began to challenge for field position again, forcing Zebre into panic defending again. The Italian side made their first decent break of the game after 58 minutes but as Munster were scrambling back, Brummer put boot to ball and Farrell shepherded the ball out of play.
Zebre continued to threaten as Coombes was penalised for dragging down the maul. With advantage on their side, they bundled over the line but the ball was held up. There was then a delay in proceedings as Murray dove in after the referee had signalled for the penalty and ‘handbags’ broke out. After lengthy consultation with TMO, the teams were warned and play was brought back for the original penalty. Zebre battered the Munster line as the visitors desperately scrambled to keep them out. Eventually, Renato Giammarioli dodged Conor Oliver and touched down for their first try.
Munster failed to bring any of the creativity and intensity that they showed at times in the first half and wasted two potential scoring opportunities as time ticked away. Eventually, they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts and Rory Scannell slotted it to increase the distance between the teams once more. They worked their way back downfield once again but frustratingly, Farrell found himself isolated and Zebre turned over possession.
In typical Munster style, however, they managed to make a try out of nothing. Bleyendaal sent a grubber kick towards the try line and Murray brilliantly chased the last Zebre man back, causing him to fumble the ball and O’Mahony took full advantage by touching it down with Scannell adding the conversion.
This try seemed to spark them to life as they piled the pressure on their Italian hosts who, as they had done all game, turned over possession. Munster were then given advantage which Bleyendaal made use of, sending a cross-field kick to Haley who just slipped at the wrong time. However, he managed to retain possession and Murray sent a well-timed passed to Scannell who crossed for the bonus point try.
ZEBRE: G Di Giulio; P Balekana, G Bisegni, T Boni, J Elliott; F Brummer, R Raffaele; C Ah-Nau, M Ceciliani, D Chistolini; L Krumov, D Sisi (cap); J Tuivaiti, M Mbandà, G Licata.
MUNSTER: M Haley; R O’Mahony; R Scannell, T Bleyendaal (C); A Wootton; B Johnston, N Cronin; J Loughman, K O’Byrne, S Archer; F Wycherley, D O’Shea; G Coombes, C Cloete, A Botha.