Despite seeing flanker Donnacha Ryan sin-binned during an ill-disciplined first-half display, the visitors reached the interval three points ahead, with fly-half Paul Warwick outscoring opposite number James Marshall two penalties to one. The second-half brought a marked improvement in Munster’s performance and, aided by the fact that Aironi spent nearly the entire third quarter with 14 men following yellows for Guilio Toniolatti and Gareth Krause, the province pulled clear with a Ryan touchdown and a penalty try.
Aironi No.8 Nick Williams wormed his way over for a late score against his former colleagues but Munster’s fourth victory in five Magners League games had long since been sealed.
Indiscipline cost the province dearly on their last visit to Italy, against Treviso two weeks previously, but they did not appear to have learned from that experience on the evidence of the opening 40 minutes in Viadana.
Indeed, while Warwick had Munster 6-3 up by the end of the first quarter, they were repeatedly admonished by referee David Jones. They conceded 11 penalties in the opening period, one of which resulted in Ryan being sent to the bin.
However, through a combination of stubborn defensive work and some woeful goal-kicking from Marshall, who missed three first-half penalties, the visitors held Aironi scoreless while down to 14 men to reach the interval with their lead intact.
Within two minutes of the restart, the roles were reversed as Aironi were reduced to 14 after winger Toniolatti saw yellow for taking Warwick out in the air.
Moments later, Hurley was forced off, with Doug Howlett coming on in his place, but the enforced change did not affect Munster’s momentum and they took a firm grip on the tie on 50 minutes when Ryan flopped over after intercepting a woeful pass from Aironi hooker Tommaso D’Apice.
Aironi were then restored to their full complement — but only for three minutes, as Krause saw yellow for not rolling away and Munster again capitalised on their numerical advantage, this time through a penalty try awarded after Aironi collapsed a scrum five metres from their own line.
The hosts never looked like turning the game around thereafter, though they did manage a consolation score through Williams.
Munster manager Shaun Payne said of Hurley’s injury: “He twisted his knee after one of their props fell across his leg and we had to take him straight off. We won’t know more until we get a scan done but it does look relatively serious.”
AIRONI: D Demas; K Robertson, G Pavan (G Pizarro, 69), M Pratichetti, G Toniolatti; J Marshall (R Bocchino, 57), P Travagli (G Bronzini, 76); Al De Marchi (An De Marchi, 62), T D’Apice (R Santamaria, 49), F Staibano (L Redolfini, 59); J Furno (G Biagi, 72), M Bortolami (c); J Sole, G Krause (N Cattina, 72), N Williams.
MUNSTER: J Murphy; D Hurley (D Howlett, 45), L Mafi, S Tuitupou, S Zebo; P Warwick (D Cusack, 65), D Williams (C Murray, 53); W Du Preez (M Horan, 60), D Varley (D Fogarty, 60), T Buckley (S Archer, 65); I Nagle (A Quinlan, 60), M O’Driscoll (c); D Ryan, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan (B Holland, 72).
Referee: D Jones (WRU).