Zebre 19 Munster 29: Alex Wootton was one of the players that Rassie Erasmus name-checked in his final week with Munster when he was asked what he would miss when he returned to South Africa.
Erasmus was confident there was young brigade coming through which would help not just continue the recovery, but go on to restore the glory days of silverware.
Funnily, then, that on a day when his successor Johann van Graan took charge — well, sort of took over — who should pop with a brace of tries in a four-minute spell after the break to ease their nerves and secure the win and the bonus point, but Wootton. It was a timely contribution from the Macclesfield native and it would be no surprise if the 23-year tasted Champions Cup rugby soon, not least with Keith Earls out until the new year through injury.
Wooton ran in a brace of tries to bring his PRO14 haul this season to seven and, in the process, wrap up a game which Munster’s ill-discipline looked set to thwart.
Van Graan, busy throughout jotting things into a big red notebook at Stadio Lanfranchi, just kept a watching brief for this clash, with assistants Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones running the show, as they maintained their 100% record over Zebre in 11 league meetings.
Van Graan will take full control next week, when they host Ospreys in Cork, as Flannery said the transition from the departure of Erasmus and his assistant Jacques Nienabar is almost complete.
“With Rassie and Jacques moving on and Johann coming in, it was a bit of a transition period, so, to come away from here with a win was massive for us,” said Flannery.
“The fact that the transition was flagged so far out, we have managed it quite well. Johann had been over and had seen how our week had run. We were lucky, myself and Felix, the fact that we had a break after the Dragons game. Then, we had a week’s prep coming in before this match that we had a lot of time to prepare for it. It’s been fine, so far.”
Van Graan would not have been pleased with the discipline of Munster, who would have been punished by better teams than Zebre, who were ravaged by the November internationals.
A 17-0 lead after 26 minutes was cut to 17-14 when, firstly Robin Copeland, and then the impressive Sam Arnold, paid the price as Scottish referee Lloyd Linton lost his patience with Munster’s fouling.
Michael Bradley’s side, with a few decent scalps already this season, made Munster pay, with centre Giulio Bisegni darting over after Galway native Ciaran Gaffney — revelling in Italy after being let go by Connacht — was stopped just short.
Zebre captain Jacopo Sarto got their second before the break, with scrumhalf Guglilemo Palazzani converting both to leave just three between them at the interval.
However, Munster resumed control once they were restored to 15 and the game and the bonus point was sealed by the 57th minute when Wootton took control.
He got the first in the right corner after good pressure and then Simon Zebo, who later went off with a knock to a knee, set him up for the bonus point with a superb wide pass.
Zebre gave themselves a chance of a couple of bonus points, when winger Giovanbattista Venditti scored 13 minutes from time after some good pressure.
However, that was as near as they got and a good day for Munster was sealed when Calvin Nash, one of four academy players in the matchday 23, scored his first try for the province at the death, with JJ Hanrahan converting to make it five kicks from seven.
“Our discipline was very, very poor in the first-half,” said Flannery.
“We started very well and managed the game well, but then our discipline in the first-half was appalling and that is what let them back into it.”
Scorers for Zebre:
Tries: G Bisegni, J Sarto, G Venditti. Cons : G Palazzani (2)
Tries: A Wootton (2), R Scannell, J Hart, C Nash. Cons : JJ Hanrahan (4). Pen : Hanrahan.
C Gaffney; P Bruno, G Bisegni, F Afamasaga, G Venditti; M Azzolini, G Palazzani; C Ah-Nau, L Luus, E Bello; J Tucker, L Krumov; J Sarto, J Meyer, D Minnie.
O Fabiani for Luus (41), M Mbanda for Minnie (43), A De Marchi for Ah-Nau (62), D Fragnito for Tucker (62), G D’Onofrio for Venditti (73).
S Zebo; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, J Hart; L O’Connor, R Marshall, S Archer; J Kleyn, B Holland; J O’Donoghue, C Cloete, R Copeland.
B Scott for Archer (21-27), K O’Byrne for Marshall (63), D O’Shea for Holland (63), C Nash for Wootton (67), B Scott for O’Connor (67), J Stafford for Hart (76), B Johnston for Zebo (76), Referee: Lloyd Linton (Scotland).
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