It wasn’t exactly the script David Wallace was looking for on his return from a long term injury, but the veteran backrower was nevertheless upbeat despite Munster’s shock defeat in Viadana yesterday.
The return of the 72-times capped Irish international following a six-month layoff was just about the only positive to come from an underwhelming display deep in the Italian heartland, where Aironi claimed what is arguably their biggest scalp since the inception of the club two years ago.
They were helped in no small part by a highly indifferent first-half performance by Munster, who conceded two tries without reply to trail 15-3 at the interval. Cue the return of Wallace, whose second-half appearance seemed to galvanise the visiting troops and spark a comeback which almost resulted in an unlikely win.
It all proved too little in the end but the 35-year old flanker was nonetheless happy to be back in the thick of it all.
“I was delighted to get 25 minutes under my belt,” he said after an impressive cameo.
“I really had no inkling as to what way it would go, but I felt comfortable out there, more comfortable than I thought I would feel.
“Looking forward, I have no lofty goals for myself because I don’t want to be disappointed.
“It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of rugby, and obviously a lot of patience before I get back to where I was.
“But today was the first step, hopefully of many.”
Coach Tony McGahan will be hoping for rather fewer performances like this one from his troops who were pinned to the ropes for the entirety of the first-half.
Granted, they were severely under strength, but then so too were their lowly opponents, who were missing 18 players due to injury, suspension and international call-ups.
They made considerably light of their deficiencies, however, and especially so during the opening 40 minutes during which they crossed the chalk twice.
The first arrived eight minutes in when Nicola Cattina outsprinted wing Denis Hurley in a straight race for the line after a clever grubber kick through.
Gabriel Pizarro was the beneficiary for try number two, capitalising on some neat offloading by the home backline, and some pretty soft defending by their visiting counterparts.
McGahan introduced over 150 caps worth of experience in the second half in an effort to stem the tide, with Marcus Horan, BJ Botha and Wallace all trotting on, and to good effect.
Their combined influence paved the way for a penalty try after a series of scrum drives, and Wallace then provided the pass for Lifeimi Mafi to skirt home under the posts for a second try.
With just four points between the sides, Munster were now within an ace of an unlikely victory, and would have got it had Ian Keatley’s late cross-field kick fallen into the lap of Luke O’Dea.
But instead, the ball bounced into touch, along with Munster’s remaining hopes.
Scorers for Aironi: Tries: Cattina, Pizarro Con: Orquera Pens: Orquera 3
Munster: Tries: Pen try, Mafi Con: Keatley 2 Pens: Deasy
AIRONI: T Tebaldi; R Pavan, M Pratichetti, G Pizarro, S Sino; L Orquera, T Keats; M Aguero (A de Marchi 56), R Santamaria (F Ongaro 58), L Romano (S Perugini 58); G Biagi, C del Fava; F Ferrarini, N Cattina, J Sole
MUNSTER: F Jones; D Hurley, S Tokula (L O’Dea 53), L Mafi (I Keatley 27-30), S Zebo; S Deasy (I Keatley 41), D Williams; W de Preez (M Horan 53), M Sherry (D Fogarty 75), S Archer (BJ Botha 57); B Holland, M O’Driscoll (capt); D O’Callaghan (I Nagle 58), T O’Donnell (D Wallace 56), P Butler
Referee: D Wilkinson.
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