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Munster get off the mark after scrappy encounter with Zebre in Cork

Graham Rowntree got his first win in a game which won’t live long in the memory.

Niall Scannell goes over for a score.
Niall Scannell goes over for a score.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

Munster 21

Zebre 5

A WIN IS a win, and Lord knows Munster needed one after opening their season with back-to-back defeats.

It came against a Zebre Parma outfit whose marked improvements in their own two opening home defeats were nowhere to be seen on the road at Musgrave Park.

Munster, too, were nowhere near the level that Graham Rowntree and co. are trying to reach. The pros for the southern province were that they at least removed themselves from the bowels of the URC table and got their head coach off the mark with a 21-5 success. The cons were that they failed to secure a bonus point at home against a side which remains one of the weakest in the competition and, for the second week in a row, they failed to score at all in the second half.

The hosts at least started with the kind of intent that had so glaringly lacked in both fixtures in Wales, although a first assault on the Zebre line was thwarted by a defensive jackal.

Six minutes in, it was Ben Healy who showed his cojones and foiled Zebre’s first effort in Munster’s red zone. Visiting out-half Tiff Eden took the ball to the line on first phase off a scrum deep inside Munster’s 22′ and his opposite number somehow managed to reef the ball from his grasp as he hammered Eden in the tackle.

Moments later, off a home penalty, Healy blasted Munster to within five of the Zebre line and, from the resulting lineout maul, they crossed with relative ease for the game’s first score, Niall Scannell dotting down. Healy, instrumental to the score from its deepest origins, added the extras from left of centre.

Zebre came within a whisker of an immediate response as, firstly, Healy fell off a tackle in his own 22′ and, secondly, Munster were almost caught out playing hot potato on their own line having won the ball back.

Up the other end, though, Munster’s front-five power, so often a weakness, was proving too much for the visitors. Keynan Knox crashed over for their second after a brief spell of pressure inside the Zebre five, and Healy again was spot-on with the boot.

Munster’s attacking lineout was flaky in a first quarter which lacked any kind of real pattern but it was a Tadhg Beirne steal off Zebre ball which led to the hosts’ third assault on the Italians’ line. They again opted to keep it tight at close range and Jack O’Donoghue was initially awarded a score before it was ruled out for a knock-on following a TMO inspection.

Musgrave Park frowns were turned upside down only moments later, however, when Scannell crossed for his second, Munster’s third, off the back of another lineout maul while Zebre lock Gabriele Venditti sat in the bin. Healy stretched the lead out to 21-0 from in front of the posts.

Munster’s pack was affording them total control of the contest. In truth, their backs didn’t get much of a sniff in the first half and the little ball that they did receive was inconsequential, invariably hitting the floor before long.

Seven minutes before the break, Munster repelled Zebre from five metres again with jumpers causing havoc to two consecutive Italian lineouts. By this writer’s calculation, Zebre lost eight of 13 first-half lineouts on their own ball, with Beirne and captain Peter O’Mahony at the centre of most of the destruction. It was a spillage into touch off the same set piece which brought with it the mercy of half-time.

Whereas right wing Conor Phillips had at least had the chance to present himself as an aerial threat early in the first half, his fellow competitive debutant Patrick Campbell, playing on the opposite side, only got his hands on the ball for the first time early in the second.

It was during this looser period that Zebre struck for their first score, and it was one created by their own left wing, Italy international Jacopo Trulla. After receiving a searing, flat pass, he chipped over the top from Munster’s 22′ and the bounce of the ball fell the way of Lorenzo Pani to touch down. Tiff Eden’s conversion was off the mark but Munster’s lead was down to 21-5.

Graham Rowntree began to ring the changes, including at half-back where Conor Murray and Joey Carbery replaced Craig Casey and Ben Healy respectively. This also heralded a 250th Munster appearance for Stephen Archer, who replaced try-scorer Knox.

Carbery, looking impish, was quick to thrust a bit of life into Munster’s wide attack, albeit it often broke down as a result of his own looseness of pass or offload.

In search of their bonus-point try, Munster habitually got in their own way with handling errors and errors at the breakdown, where they remain far too timid on either side of the ball (Edwin Edogbo can count himself the exception with a brilliant jackal turnover on 73 minutes).

When they finally produced a move of note with five minutes remaining, it was player-of-the-match O’Mahony who botched a two-on-one with Phillips outside him. Zebre left wing Trullo thanked him by way of a few pats on the backside, leading O’Mahony to drag him to the floor. No further action was taken, but impetus was surely lost.

Zebre cleared for a 50′/22′ a couple of phases later and Munster were forced to hold them out for the remainder.

Scorers for Munster: Tries: Niall Scannell (2), Keynan Knox; Pens: Cons: Ben Healy (3)

Scorers for Zebre: Tries: Lorenzo Pani

Munster

  • 15. Mike Haley
  • 14. Conor Phillips
  • 13. Malakai Fekitoa
  • 12. Dan Goggin
  • 11. Patrick Campbell
  • 10. Ben Healy
  • 9. Craig Casey
  • 1. Dave Kilcoyne
  • 2. Niall Scannell
  • 3. Keynan Knox
  • 4. Fineen Wycherley
  • 5. Tadhg Beirne
  • 6. Jack O’Donoghue
  • 7. Peter O’Mahony (Captain)
  • 8. Jack O’Sullivan

Replacements:

  • 16. Scott Buckley
  • 17. Jeremy Loughman
  • 18. Stephen Archer
  • 19. Edwin Edogbo
  • 20. Ruadhan Quinn
  • 21. Conor Murray
  • 22. Joey Carbery
  • 23. Rory Scannell

Zebre

  • 15. Richard Kriel
  • 14. Pierre Bruno
  • 13. Erich Cronjé
  • 12. Enrico Lucchin (Captain)
  • 11. Jacopo Trulla
  • 10. Tiff Eden
  • 9. Alessandro Fusco
  • 1. Juan Pitinari
  • 2. Giampietro Ribaldi
  • 3. Ion Neculai
  • 4. Gabrielle Venditti
  • 5. Leonard Krumov
  • 6. Davide Ruggeri
  • 7. MJ Pelser
  • 8. Taina Fox-Matamua

Replacements:

  • 16. Luca Bigi
  • 17. Luca Rizzoli
  • 18. Matteo Nocera
  • 19. Joshua Furno
  • 20. Iacopo Bianchi
  • 21. Nicolo Casilio
  • 22. Franco Smith Jr
  • 23. Lorenzo Pani

About the author:

Gavan Casey  / Reports from Musgrave Park

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