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Dublin: 11°C Sunday 18 April 2021

Superb Sweetnam helps Munster to get Erasmus era off to winning start

The Cork man scored a brace of tries in Waterford.

Munster 17

Zebre 0

Murray Kinsella reports from the RSC

RASSIE ERASMUS’ MUNSTER began pre-season with a three-try win over Zebre in testing weather conditions in Waterford.

Darren Sweetnam scores a try Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The superb Darren Sweetnam scored a try in either half, while fellow wing Ronan O’Mahony got on the end of a clever Ian Keatley grubber for Munster’s other five-pointer.

Sweetnam was man of the match thanks to an impressive performance that included a handful of accurate offloads, several powerful carries, a turnover and a rabid kick chase that was matched by his team-mates.

New defence coach Jacques Nienaber’s touch was evident in patches of the game, with Munster’s aggressive linespeed and hungry kick chase pressuring Zebre into errors.

The Italians enjoyed the greater share of possession, meaning there were fewer opportunities to get a sense of Erasmus’ attacking ideas, but the carries were technically strong in a direct game plan and the breakdown work was sharp.

On-trial centre Colm O’Shea was another standout for Munster, while the likes of Conor Oliver, John Madigan, Cian Bohane and Stephen Fitzgerald also would have impressed Erasmus.

Local man Jack O’Donoghue was understandably a popular figure and looked in good condition after the summer.

Erasmus used his full squad of 29 players, with 12 debuts in total. 18-year-old Conor Fitzgerald, Calvin Nash and Gavin Coombes all made their first senior appearances in the same week as receiving their Leaving Cert results. Steven McMahon, another Déise native, got a warm reception on his late arrival into the game.

Jack O'Donoghue Waterford native Jack O'Donoghue was popular with the crowd. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Despite the slippery ball, Munster started with ambition as Sweetnam’s early offloads gave them momentum. There were hints of a willingness to run from deep too, although the skill execution was understandably hit-and-miss.

Sweetnam’s first try arrived in the 25th minute and came after two excellent Keatley kicks. First the out-half – who had started poorly and nearly gave up an intercept score – chipped delicately over the Zebre midfield to allow O’Shea to gather and break a tackle.

On the very next phase, Keatley sent a clever left-footed kick deep behind the Italians and Giovanbattista Venditti slipped as he attempted to retrieve. Chasing hard up the right wing, Sweetnam swooped and flopped over the line to score. Keatley was wide with his conversion attempt.

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Zebre spurned an opportunity late in the half, when a pass to the in-space Maxime Mbanda in the left corner was too high, but Munster started the second half well.

Their second try arrived in the 54th minute, when Keatley intelligently took advantage of a midfield scrum in the Zebre 22.

With Zebre pushing numbers up into the front-line defence, the once-capped Ireland international found the space in behind with a perfectly-weighted grubber. O’Mahony had ample time to scoop the ball and dot down to the left of the posts, Keatley converting for 14-0.

Brian Scott with Guglielmo Palazzani Brian Scott was among those to make their first Munster appearance. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Wholesale changes on both sides further interrupted the already stop-start flow of the game thereafter, but replacement centre Dan Goggin fired off a scoring pass to Sweetnam in the right corner in the 72nd minute.

Dave Foley was the only fresh injury concern Munster picked up, the second row departing with a back spasm after coming on in the second half, although Dave Johnston – recovering from an ankle issue – was pulled from the matchday squad earlier in the day as a precaution.

Erasmus’ men now turn their attention to the visit of Worcester to Musgrave Park next Friday after a solid start to their season.

Munster scorers:

Tries: Darren Sweetnam, Ronan O’Mahony [2]

Conversions: Ian Keatley [1 from 3]

MUNSTER: Stephen Fitzgerald (Calvin Nash ’72); Darren Sweetnam (Steven McMahon ’72, Cian Bohane (Shane Daly ’72), Colm O’Shea (Dan Goggin ’51), Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley (Conor Fitzgerald ’72), Duncan Williams (John Poland ’72); John Ryan (Peter McCabe ’65), Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne ’65), Stephen Archer (Brian Scott ‘HT (John Andress ’65 (Brian Scott ’80))); John Madigan (Dave Foley ‘HT (Dave O’Callaghan ’76)), Billy Holland (captain); Dave O’Callaghan (Darren O’Shea ’51), Conor Oliver (Ollie Lyons ’72), Jack O’Donoghue (Gavin Coombes ’72).

ZEBRE: Carlo Canna (Carlo Engelbrecht ’53); Giovanbattista Venditti (Tommasso Boni ’68), Tommasso Boni (Giulio Bisegni ’53), Tommasso Castello, Gabriele di Giulio; Edoardo Padovani, Gugliemo Palazzani; Andrea Lovotti (Andrea de Marchi ’65), Oliviero Fabiani (Tommaso D’Apice ’57), Pietro Ceccarelli (Dario Chistolini, ’53); Gideon Koegelenberg, Federico Ruzza (Quintin Geldenhuys HIA ’43 to ’50 (Guillermo Roan ’63)); Jacopo Sarto (catpain) (Giovanni Pettinelli ’57), Maxime Mbanda, Derick Minnie.

Replacement not used: Carlo Festuccia.

Referee: Gary Conway [IRFU].

Attendance: 2,376.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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