Munster 15 Benetton 13
Sean McMahon reports from Thomond Park
Munster have secured a meeting with Leinster in two weeks time after overcoming Benetton in their Guinness PRO14 quarter-final at Thomond Park this afternoon.
A disjointed performance from the men in red led to a poor atmosphere among the sparse crowd for the majority of this match and that wasn’t helped when Johann van Graan’s side went into the break 3-10 down after the excellent Ratuva Tavuyara’s try proved the difference at the break.
Munster were slightly improved in the second half as both sides traded penalties which ultimately saw the home side claw the deficit back to one point.
The winning of the game came when JJ Hanrahan landed a 50m penalty to put his side two points in front but the drama didn’t stop there as Benetton skewed two drop-goal opportunities in the final moments as Munster somehow came out on the right side of this result.
Munster dominated possession and territory in the opening 40 minutes but they were let down time and time again by poor execution and a lack of inventiveness in attack.
The signs were clear from early on when a promising attacking lineout saw Peter O’Mahony fumble the transfer to Conor Murray. Moments later, Tadhg Beirne knocked on in the tackle which allowed Benetton to clear.
Rory Scannell showed his quality at times and a left foot kick into space yielded a long period of possession in the Benetton 22.
A Munster maul eventually led to the ball being sent to Andrew Conway on the wing but he was stopped just short and then CJ Stander was held illegally in the tackle inches from the line which gave Tyler Bleyendaal an opportunity to register Munster’s first points of the game.
However, when Bleyendaal was lining up his kick, referee Nigel Owens decided he wasn’t taking it from the correct position so instead of kicking at goal from the more difficult location, Munster kicked to the corner looking for the full haul of points.
The decision didn’t work out as Braam Steyn disrupted the Munster maul and was able to rip the ball from Murray who was desperately trying to release the ball to his backline.
Benetton cleared but Munster responded with a well-worked move which saw the ball moved right to left only for Darren Sweetnam to be stopped just inches from the line. The ball was moved wide to Chris Farrell who attempted to bosh his way over the whitewash but he was held up so a 5m scrum was awarded to the men in red.
From this, CJ Stander took the ball and carried off the back of the scrum where he was stopped a metre short, on the next phase, Murray zipped a pass to Tadhg Beirne who looked certain to crash over from that distance only for the former Scarlets forward to knock on.
Munster, with just over 20 minutes on the clock, had 72% possession and 85% territory but poor execution in attack saw them fail to register a point until Bleyendaal finally opened the scoring with a penalty on 23 minutes.
What will no doubt frustrate Johann van Graan and his coaching team was seeing his side concede a penalty immediately after opening the scoring which allowed Tommaso Allan to level matters.
Munster when through another long period of possession but their laboured attack was predictable for the Benetton defence and it ultimately resulted in Chris Cloete knocking the ball forward when attempting an offload. To compound the situation, Munster gave away a penalty from the resulting scrum.
Munster launched another attack when they won a penalty after Conway was blocked off the ball when chasing an up and under. Munster kicked to the corner but again, they came away empty handed.
For the umpteenth time in the opening 40 minutes, Munster lacked imagination and conviction with ball in hand and this particular move was summed up when Stander decided to run back into traffic which ultimately yielded a turnover for the visitors.
Munster were rarely threatened in the first half but some loose kicking from the home side eventually led to the Italian side taking the lead.
A counter-attack from Kieran Crowley’s side ultimately resulted in the ball being sent wide to Ratuva Tavuyara and the flying winger did brilliantly to ground the ball in the corner before being put into touch by Haley. Allan kicked the conversion which gave the Italian side a 3-10 lead at halftime.
Munster clawed back three points at the beginning of the second half when Bleyendaal kicked a penalty after Federico Ruzza infringed at the ruck. The attacking move from Munster came from good play by Peter O’Mahony, who stole a lineout from the Italian side on their own 22 line.
Benetton almost scored a try soon after when a wonderful break from Monty Ioane saw the ball offloaded to Jayden Hayward but the full back’s pass was fumbled by Steyn and Munster breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Tavuyara made a break soon after which almost resulted in a second try for his side. He got through poor tackle attempts from Jean Kleyn, Scannell, Stander and Haley before eventually being brought down by JJ Hanrahan who was introduced as an early second-half replacement for Bleyendaal.
Munster had a great opportunity to take the lead on 53 minutes when they kicked a penalty to the corner but Niall Scannell’s throw was stolen by Ruzza and the southern province spurned another huge chance.
Benetton extended their lead when Hanrahan was penalised for being offside and Allan notched his second penalty of the afternoon to restore his side’s seven-point lead.
The Kerry native responded well to that mistake when he kicked a penalty minutes later to bring it back to a four-point game.
A great break from Arno Botha and offload to Stander saw Munster bring play just metres from the Benetton line until the Italian side infringed a few phases later to give Hanrahan the easiest of opportunities to register three points which brought it back to a one-point game.
For the next 10 minutes, Benetton dominated territory and almost came away with a try on two occasions but for some desperate Munster defending kept the Italian side out.
Munster managed to clear their lines when they won a penalty but with the clock now entering the final 10 minutes, Kevin O’Byrne’s throw into the lineout was crooked which handed the initiative back to the Italian side.
Moments later though, Stander produced a superb turnover and when Tito Tebaldi threw the ball away in frustration, they conceded 10 metres which have Munster a shot at goal from the halfway line.
Hanrahan stepped up and produced a remarkable kick which gave his side a two-point lead.
The drama wasn’t over there as Benetton responded by getting close to the Munster line before a drop goal attempt went wide of the posts.
With less than a minute still remaining on the clock, there was time for Munster to kick back to the visitors and you could cut the tension with a knife as Benetton went through the phases which brought play within drop-goal range.
Jayden Hayward stepped up with the chance to put his side into the semi-finals but like Antonio Rizzi’s effort minutes earlier, his effort went wide to the right and Munster secured passage into the semi-finals by the skin of their teeth.
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Darren Sweetnam; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (C), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Liam O’Connor, John Ryan, Billy Holland, Arno Botha, Alby Mathewson, JJ Hanrahan, Dan Goggin.
Benetton Rugby: Jayden Hayward, Ratuva Tavuyara, Marco Zanon, Luca Morisi, Monty Ioane, Tommaso Allan (C), Dewaldt Duvenage, Nicola Quaglio, Luca Bigi, Marco Riccioni, Marco Lazzaroni, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Abraham Steyn, Toa Halafihi
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Irné Herbst, 20 Dean Budd, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Alberto Sgarbi