Munster 33 Aironi 17
Aironi Rugby proved feisty opponents for Munster before some forward grunt propelled them to a bonus-point win at Musgrave Park.
The visitors, one of two Italian newcomers to the Magners League, delighted their small pocket of fans by drawing level at 11-11 before half-time, with French full-back Julien Laharrague charging through for a 31st-minute try.
A strong start to the second half saw Munster assume greater control of proceedings. The sin-binning of Aironi prop Salvatore Perugini was quickly followed by tries from man of the match Niall Ronan and Tony Buckley.
Experienced fly-half Ludovic Mercier sandwiched a Paul Warwick drop-goal with two penalties, but Munster bagged the bonus through Ronan’s second try on 62 minutes.
Aironi took their time to settle and two early penalty strikes from Warwick, the first from distance, gave Munster a deserved lead.
Ronan coughed up a penalty at the breakdown which former France international Mercier miscued from the right, but Aironi soon showed what they can do with ball in hand as Italy international scrum-half Tito Tebaldi ignited a great passage for his side.
He scampered away from two midfield tackles and Gareth Krause and Giulio Toniolatti added further purpose to the move, forcing Munster back towards their try-line.
The pressure yielded two penalties in the space of three minutes, both of which Mercier converted. The visitors were visibly growing in confidence, with their grizzled forwards increasing their influence.
Munster were sluggish in attack, save for a lovely spell of continuity which teed up full-back Felix Jones’ first league try. From a ruck in the 22, Aironi were caught out when scrum-half Peter Stringer put Jones sprinting over to the right of the posts. Warwick’s conversion attempt was off target.
But Aironi’s infectious endeavour got them back level. They scored a terrific try, breaking forward off a scrum on their ten-metre line. Mercier chipped over the top for centres Dylan des Fountain and Roberto Quartaroli to link, before the latter sent Laharrague darting in at the right corner.
Mercier missed the conversion, leaving the sides tied at the break. Munster came out with more purpose in the second half and went for the jugular after Perugini was yellow-carded for tackling a player without the ball.
The men in red shunned a penalty and following a series of pick and drives, a bloodied Ronan muscled his way over under the posts.
Warwick converted, and a clever counter from Jones set Munster on the move again, with prop Buckley pouncing to score from a close-range ruck.
Mercier’s brace of penalties briefly kept Aironi in touch at 26-17. Doug Howlett, who was hungry for work all night, blasted his way through midfield - with the help of fellow All Black Sam Tuitupou – and although Johne Murphy was held up short, Ronan squeezed over from the ensuing ruck.
Warwick converted and struck the post from a long-range penalty. Although the game was now beyond them, Aironi kept pulling away and replacement scrum-half Michael Wilson was inches away from registering a late try that their efforts would have merited.