Munster run Zebre ragged to claim Pro14 bonus point win at Thomond Park.
On a night where the conditions were not suited Munster endured a somewhat scrappy opening to claim the expected bonus point and stay ahead of the Cheetahs in the chase for a home 1/4 final slot.
An opening ten minutes saw the home side probe the Italian backline with some speculative but ultimately ineffective kicks as they tried to find a gap in the visitors’ defence.
In fact it was Michael Bradley’s side that came closest to a score with a series of lineout mauls near the Munster five metre line only to be turned over in what was a largely forgettable and error strewn opening twenty minutes.
Finally after 25 minutes of play and fresh from a stint training with the Irish camp, Sam Arnold picked a hole in the Zebre defence following a neat offload from Conor Oliver to slide over in the corner and make it 5-0 with JJ Hanrahan pushing his conversion narrowly wide right.
With the clock ticking past 35 minutes and having been awarded a penalty by Ben Whitehouse, Munster kicked for the corner and with the lineout maul at it’s most brutally effective, Brian Scott was at the end of the drive for the second try of the night. A superb conversion by Hanrahan saw the Munster with a deserved 12-0 lead.
The Italians responded with a line break that ultimately created a three on one overlap and should have yielded a try but was called back for a borderline forward pass. Munster would clear their lines and draw the half to a close with their twelve-point lead intact.
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) February 10, 2018
Like the first half, the second too took a while to produce anything of note. It was Zebre who had the most of possession and territory following a poor attempted kick from Duncan Williams.
Their hard work and pressure were rewarded with some poor defensive work off the back of scrum allowed scrum half Guglielmo Palazzani cross for the visitors opening score and with the conversion missed the lead was now cut to 12-5.
Ian Keatley replaced JJ Hanrahan at ten and Munster responded almost immediately with Robin Copeland on the end of another forward surge to dot down for Munster’s third try of the night on 55 minutes. Keatley added the extras and Munster were back in control.
Munster could now sniff the bonus point and in the very next attacking spell they got just that. Keatley kept the Zebre defence guessing with the ball in both hands and managed to set Rory Scannell through the gap for the fourth try of the night. With the conversion added, Munster now enjoyed a 21-point lead.
Gerbrandt Grobler made his expected first XV competitive debut coming on for Billy Holland on the hour mark with Duncan Williams making way for John Poland with the South African taking the field to a warm round of applause from the home support.
With 73 minutes on the clock and the Italians run ragged, Sam Arnold combined well with Rory Scannell to take a subtle offload and canter under the posts for his second try of the night with Keatley adding the extras to make it 33-5 to the home side.
That’s the way the game would finish. A satisfactory outing from the home side but with a lot more to do and bigger challenges on the horizon.