# pro14
Hanrahan's long-range penalty gets Munster out of jail against Benetton
The replacement out-half landed the winning score, as Johann van Graan’s side survived a major scare at Thomond Park.

Munster 15

Benetton 13 

Ryan Bailey reports from Thomond Park 

IF — AND THAT’S a big if — Munster go on to end their eight-year wait for silverware in Glasgow this month, nobody will remember just how poor they were here, but the result — a narrow, and lucky, two-point win — cannot conceal their underlying shortcomings.

At the end of a tight and tense tussle, Johann van Graan’s side survived an almighty scare to book their place in the Guinness Pro14 semi-finals, where they will face Leinster, but this was about as disappointing an attacking display you’re likely to see from the hosts. 

JJ Hanrahan kicks the winning penalty Dan Sheridan / INPHO Hanrahan celebrates his winning kick. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

That they escaped was down to a superbly-struck long-range penalty from replacement out-half JJ Hanrahan and some never-say-die defensive resilience at the death, with history-making Benetton pushing them every inch of the way.

The Italians, who had qualified for the end-of-season play-offs for the first time, led for much of the game and had two attempts at the end to advance to the last four, but Antonio Rizzi and then Jayden Hayward were both off the mark with their drop-goal efforts.  

You had to feel for Kieran Crowley’s side, who played with confidence and conviction, and ought to have become the first Italian side to win here, but it is Munster who keep their season alive and progress through to a fourth Pro14 semi-final in five years.

With a trip to RDS on 18 May coming up, the southern province will need to raise their game considerably if they are to stand any chance in Dublin, with their blunt attack completely malfunctioning here again. 

Despite dominating the first half, Munster went in behind at the break and their frustrations continued through the second half, with van Graan’s side playing with little shape or pattern, while appearing completely devoid of ingenuity. 

They were guilty of rashly kicking the ball away rather than remaining patient through the phases and their approach was far too one-dimensional, slow and pedestrian, which played into Benetton’s hands. 

Van Graan this week suggested he is looking to bring in a new attack coach for next season and, on this evidence, getting a new and experienced voice into the set-up is an absolute must if they are to become truly competitive again. 

Still, they showed heart and fight to grind out a win and maintain their unbeaten record at home this season, with Hanrahan proving the hero as he came off the bench to kick nine second-half points. 

CJ Stander Billy Stickland / INPHO CJ Stander is held up. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Munster dominated the possession and territory stakes from the off, pitching tent inside the Benetton 22, but again lacked a real cutting edge in the red zone as the visitors held firm through siege-after-siege.

After Rory Scannell’s kick gained good yards for the hosts, Munster looked to strike off their lineout maul, flashing it out right through the hands before CJ Stander was held up just short, although Toa Halafihi was penalised in the process.

Peter O’Mahony, cognisant of his side’s failure to turn their dominance into early points, asked Tyler Bleyendaal to have a shot at the posts, but then changed his mind when Nigel Owens, on advice from his TMO, moved the penalty attempt to the right position, closer to this near touchline.

The frustration continued as the maul option malfunctioned. Jean Kleyn soared to take Niall Scannell’s throw, the forwards worked their way infield, but when Conor Murray took control at the back, Abraham Steyn wrapped the scrum-half up and ripped possession off him.

As much as Benetton were stoic and unrelenting in their defensive duties, Munster weren’t helping themselves. Off another set-piece strike move, Murray and Bleyendaal created space out wide but, again, having fixed the last defender, Mike Haley’s pass forced Darren Sweetnam to check his run and the green shirts scrambled back to hold Chris Farrell up. 

Then, after Stander put the head down for the line, Tadhg Beirne spurned a gilt-edged opportunity from a couple of yards out as he failed to cleanly take Murray’s pop pass and ride the last tackle for the opening score.

Bleyendaal eventually knocked over a penalty to get Munster on the board, but for all their huffing and puffing, they went into the break behind. Brilliant Benetton showed them how it’s done at the other end. 

Tommaso Allan got the Italians up and running with an instant response off the tee after O’Mahony was pinged by Owens at the breakdown, and then Crowley’s men struck on the stroke of half-time to stun Thomond. 

Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara dives in to score the opening try Dan Sheridan / INPHO Tavuyara finishes brilliantly. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

A loose Haley kick return allowed Italian international Allan time and space to pick his spot in the far corner with a beautifully-judged kick, and while Munster initially cleared their lines through Bleyendaal, Monty Ioane’s quick lineout set the Benetton wheels in motion.

What followed was special. Jayden Hayward picked the gap to expose the red shirts and with Munster caught narrow, Allan pulled it back for the Benetton fullback to create the overlap and once fed by Marco Zanon, Fijian winger Ratuva Tavuyara did the rest in stunning fashion for a TMO-confirmed try in the far corner. 

Allan’s touchline conversion was sweet, sending Benetton into the sheds with their tails up and a seven-point advantage on the scoreboard, and although Bleyendaal’s second penalty on the restart cut the deficit, there was little in the way of improvement from a Munster perspective. 

Van Graan introduced Hanrahan for Bleyendaal and Billy Holland for Beirne in a bid to spark Munster into action, and while the former brought renewed energy and enterprise to proceedings, it was the visitors who were doing all the running.

Another quick lineout caught Munster dozing and Tito Tebaldi, on as a blood sub for Dwaldt Duvenage, weaved and ducked his way through the first line of defence, before offloading brilliantly off the ground for Luca Bigi.

With Ioane on his shoulder, the hooker released the Pro14′s most prolific offloader and Munster were in real trouble, only for the final pass — from Hayward to Steyn — to go to ground, while moments later, Halafihi was unable to finish after Tavuyara had burst through the tackles of Kleyn, Scannell and Stander.

Munster were living on the edge and would have been thankful to cough up just three points after a period of Benetton territory, with Allan nailing another penalty to extend his side’s lead out to 13-6 with 20 minutes left on the clock.

From there, the momentum swung back Munster’s way, largely thanks to the impact of their bench, with Hanrahan bringing it back to a one-point game through back-to-back penalties.

Dean Budd’s dangerous hit on John Ryan cancelled out Allan’s three-pointer, and then Arno Botha’s charge and a big Stander hand-off yielded a second penalty in front of the sticks for Hanrahan. 12-13. 

Monty Ioane Billy Stickland / INPHO Monty Ioane was a livewire for Benetton. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Benetton weren’t deterred, though. Crowley’s men came flooding forward again, pulling and stretching Munster on both sides, before Ryan and then Stander came up trumps with season-saving turnovers close to their own line, providing the platform for Hanrahan to make the headlines. 

Again it was Stander who clamped himself over the ball, proving immovable to win the turnover penalty, and when Duvenage stupidly kicked the ball away, Owens marched it forward 10 yards to the halfway line. That proved all the difference.

With the wind at his back and the clock on 76 minutes, Hanrahan struck it sweet and true, the ball sailing between the uprights to send Munster through to the last four and a semi-final date at the RDS. They played their get out of jail card. 

Munster scorers:

Penalties: Tyler Bleyendaal [2 from 2], JJ Hanrahan [3 from 3].

Benetton scorers:

Tries: Ratuva Tavuyara. 
Conversions: Tommaso Allan [1 from 1].
Penalties: Tommaso Allan [2 from 2].

MUNSTER: 15. Mike Haley, 14. Andrew Conway, 13. Chris Farrell, 12. Rory Scannell (Dan Goggin 70′), 11. Darren Sweetnam, 10. Tyler Bleyendaal (JJ Hanrahan 48′), 9. Conor Murray (Alby Mathewson 66′); 1. Dave Kilcoyne (Liam O’Connor 73′), 2. Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne 73′), 3. Stephen Archer (John Ryan 50′), 4. Jean Kleyn, 5. Tadhg Beirne (Billy Holland 48′), 6. Peter O’Mahony (captain), 7. Chris Cloete (Arno Both 63′), 8. CJ Stander. 

BENETTON: 15. Jayden Hayward, 14. Ratuva Tavuyara, 13. Marco Zanon (Alberto Sgarbi 66′), 12. Luca Morisi, 11. Monty Ioane, 10. Tommaso Allan (captain)(Antonio Rizzi 78′), 9. Dewaldt Duvenage (Tito Tebaldi 77′); 1. Nicola Quaglio (Derrick Appiah 48′), 2. Luca Bigi (Hame Faiva 48′), 3. Marco Riccioni (Tiziano Pasquali 63′), 4. Marco Lazzaroni (Irne Herbst 50′), 5. Federico Ruzza, 6. Sebastian Negri (Dean Budd 50′), 7. Abraham Steyn, 8. Toa Halafihi.

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU]

Attendance: 10,042. 

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