Rog boots Munster home

RONAN O’GARA does not get that many opportunities these days to display his skills at Musgrave Park, but he treated the crowd of almost 7,000 last night to a superb display of kicking in appalling conditions.

And the return of the Irish internationals was a timely boost ahead of matters cranking up several gears next week with the visit to the Aviva and a date with Leinster.

Munster did enough to carve out the win last night with O’Gara landing six from seven kicks as Munster made it 14 wins in a row at the Cork venue.

Munster put in a solid if unspectacular opening half to lead by 9-3 at the interval despite playing into the wind and rain in first-half.

They imposed themselves from the outset and got on top up front and with O’Gara in superb kicking form, they quickly had an edge as he landed a superb penalty from the left touchline after three minutes.

He doubled the lead five minutes later, this time from 39 metres after Aironi were penalised in a scrum.

But Munster were unable to build on that encouraging start. Aironi’s defence was organised and became much more disciplined with the result that Munster struggled to make ground. Indeed, Aironi might have been in front by half-time but they failed to take their chances.

Their Argentine-born Italian international Luciano Orquera had a nightmare with the boot on his debut, after joining from Brive in France.

He was short with an ambitious attempt from distance on the right-wing after twelve minutes, before slotting over an effort from in front of the posts a minute later.

But then he somehow pulled an effort from 20 metres left and wide towards the end of the opening quarter, after a bout of pressure from the visitors forced Munster on the back foot.

New signing Will Chambers showed some neat touches going forward, while Conor Murray was at the heart of most of Munster’s better moves.

Yet, they struggled to break down a good Aironi defence and even when the likes of Damian Varley broke from deep, Munster were unable to punish the Italians, losing a five-metre scrum just when it seemed they would turn the screw.

It was left to O’Gara to put further distance between the sides when he again found the range into the teeth of the elements from 30 metres two minutes from the break, with Orquera again making a mess of another penalty from distance on the stroke of half-time.

He took his haul in this competition past the 800 points mark two minutes after the restart when he stroked over another excellent from 35 metres on the right-wing to make 12-3.

They resisted the temptation to go for the corner when Aironi were penalised inside their 22 after 48 minutes, with O’Gara again displaying superb accuracy to land his fifth of the night from the right touchline.

The conditions continued to deteriorate but O’Gara extended Munster’s lead before he departed to a rousing reception from the crowd of 6,852. Orquera, having missed three with the wind, somehow managed to land one into the gale from 30 metres after 63 minutes but it was a brief respite for the visitors.

Yet, while the outcome of the game was never in doubt, Munster struggled to turn possession into a try against a spirited Aironi defence.

Munster scorer: Pens: O’Gara (6)

Aironi scorer: Pen: Orquera (2)

MUNSTER: J Murphy; D Howlett, W Chambers, D Barnes, K Earls; R O’Gara, C Murray; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; D Ryan, P O’Connell; D Leamy, P O’Mahony, J Coughlan.

Replacements: T O’Leary for Murray, 56; N Ronan for O’Mahony, 56; L Mafi for Barnes, 56; D O’Callaghan for Coughlan, 61; S Deasy for O’Gara, 64; J Hayes for Botha, 65; M Horan for du Preez, 68; D Fogarty for O’Leary, 70.

AIRONI: R Trevisan; S Sinoti, A Masi, G Pavan, G Venditti; L Orquera, T Keats; M Aguero, F Ongaro, F Staibano; J Furno, M Bortolami; N Cattina, S Favaro, J Sole.

Replacements: Q Geldenhuys for Furno, 33; G Toniolatti for Venditti, 52; R Santamaria for Ongaro, 55; S Perugini for Aguero, 57; T Tebaldi for Keats, 74; N Olivier for Orquera, 74.

Yellow card: Staibano, 60.

Referee: P Allan (Scotland).

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