From the high of a late Heineken Cup flourish last weekend, Munster’s opening quarter display was as flat as the reaction from that small crowd, but at least there was plenty of room for enthusiasm as the home side cranked up the pressure and reaped the dividends from a very decent second-half display that produced four tries, two of them from man of the match JJ Hanrahan.
The Kerry youngster was in top form and helped guide the Munster back division through a difficult spell up against a tight, unrelenting Zebre defence that often bordered on or over the offside line.
Frustration wasn’t on Rob Penney’s lips, however. The Munster coach said that the changes made following last week had impacted on the first-half performance.
“The challenge this week was for the guys to be able to play with confidence and not have the stuttery start we did have, but obviously the lads came out after half-time and got a bit of rhythm and so that was a great credit to them; it was a challenging week, five days after the ERC game, and to get up and get maximum points was good.”
Ian Keatley had a 16th-minute penalty chance which went right and wide, while Daniel Halangahu had two long-range chances for the visitors, both of which he missed.
Having failed to ignite, Munster finally pieced together a series of decent attacks and a 10th phase yielded another penalty opportunity for Keatley. From a more decent position he found the target in the 25th minute.
The half rumbled on, with Munster in control of possession but never threatening to pull away. Zebre were competitive and sometimes threatening in possession. It was very much a repeat of last week’s Heineken Cup first half , and it didn’t help that Welsh referee Neil Hennessy made at least three decisions that certainly didn’t endear him to the home fans.
Halangahu kicked Zebre back into the game two minutes from the end of a first half which was both
frustrating for the home team and fans alike.
Happily, things were brighter in the second half. Six minutes in, Hanrahan waltzed in for the opening try of the game, but only after a brilliant move on the other side of the pitch that stretched and broke the Zebre defence, which cracked once the play was switched.
The second try came in the 55th minute from full-back Felix Jones, who produced a piece of individual brilliance to score under the posts. Keatley converted for a 17-3 lead.
Munster’s third was scored 11 minutes later, a second for Hanrahan after a delightful chip through from Keatley, who also converted.
The bonus point came in the 75th minute from Luke O’Dea and it was arguably the best team try of the evening, with play again switching twice across the pitch before Casey Laulala made a crucial break and delivered a perfect pass to the winger who finished in the corner.
Scorers for Munster: Tries: Hanrahan 2, Jones, O’Dea. Cons: Keatley 3. Pen: Keatley.
Scorers for Zebre: Pen: Halangahu.
MUNSTER: F Jones; L O’Dea, C Laulala, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, S Archer; D O’Callaghan, D Ryan; Dave O’Callaghan, P O’Mahony, Paddy Butler
Replacements: C Murray for Williams, M Horan for Kilcoyne (both 56), T O’Donnell for Butler, J Murphy for Zebo (both 63), B Holland for Ryan (63)
ZEBRE: R Trevisan, D Odiete, G Garcia, D Halangahu, M Pratichetti, A Chiesa, L Martinelli, S Perugini, A Mancini, L Redolfini, E Caffini, J Sole, F Ferranini, A Van Schalkwyk, F Cristiano.
Replacements: M Aguero for Perugini (40), D Glazzon for Manici, D Ryan for Redolfini, L Sarto for Garcia (all 48), L Orquera for Odiete (60), F Cazzola for Caffini (61), N Belardo for Cristiano (66)
Referee: N Hennessy (Wal).