Steely Munster get Foley off mark

GUINNESS PRO12:

Steely Munster get Foley off mark

Foley was seeking a response from his charges after they opened their Guinness Pro12 season with a deflating 14-13 loss at home to Edinburgh, their third straight defeat at Thomond Park.

Having also lost on their last two visits to Treviso, Munster badly needed a pick-me-up and tries in either half from CJ Stander and Simon Zebo — plus Ian Keatley comfortably winning his kicking duel with Joe Carlisle — settled this one in their favour.

Stander and his back-row colleagues Robin Copeland — making his Munster debut — and Tommy O’Donnell ensured there was no repeat of the Edinburgh encounter, where Munster were bested in the collisions, while Keatley gave a controlled kicking performance from 10.

Foley made eight changes to the side that faltered last week, but with talismanic second row Paul O’Connell a late withdrawal due to personal reasons, the captaincy was handed to Ireland full-back Felix Jones.

Munster made an ideal start as Treviso went offside at a ruck after knocking the ball on in the second minute, and Keatley slotted the 35-metre penalty.

Heavy showers and a cool day in Italy — the weather was, unusually, warmer and drier back in Limerick — led to handling errors on both sides in the early exchanges. One such Treviso error gave Munster a scrum platform five metres out, only for a crooked feed from scrum-half Duncan Williams to be picked up by ref Andrew McMenamy. The scrum was to prove troublesome in the first half, although Munster ruled the skies at lineout time through Dave Foley and Billy Holland, giving Williams opportunities to snipe.

But Treviso stunned them with a 17th-minute sucker punch when an inside pass off a long lineout engineered a line-break for Ludovico Nitoglia, and the hosts sent it through the hands for full-back Simone Ragusi to score wide on the left.

Out-half Carlisle added the extras for a 7-3 advantage but Munster hit straight back as a collapsed scrum shortly after the restart allowed Keatley to kick his second penalty.

The visitors hit the front on 28 minutes when some good initial work from Williams and Keatley gave the forwards a platform in the red zone, marauding back row Stander eventually crossing for his third try in two games, converted by Keatley to push Munster into a 13-7 lead.

Treviso lost flanker Meyer Swanepoel to a serious-looking knee injury 10 minutes before the break, and things could have got worse as a Ragusi intercept prevented Andrew Conway and Zebo completing a one-two with the latter well-placed to score.

Munster took that six-point cushion into the break, but Treviso missed some fine chances to wipe that out as Carlisle was off-target with two penalty chances early in the second period.

Zebo punished those misses when he notched a counter-attack try in the 51th minute. The Ireland wing burst through two tackles after Treviso attempted some risky passing near their own line and only half-cleared the danger, and quick hands set the wing free down the left.

Keatley missed the tough conversion and Treviso — sensing the game was slipping from their grasp at 18-7 down — rallied, only for BJ Botha to come off the bench and help secure a vital scrum that struggled to get a footing in the slimy conditions.

Carlisle did finally find his range to nail a 63rd-minute penalty after a lineout infringement, but Munster’s aggressive defence was otherwise holding firm. A scrum penalty 10 minutes from time signalled the death knell for the hosts, as Keatley blasted the kick from near halfway to restore the 11-point cushion.

Munster did have one hairy moment as Conway recovered a chip in behind with Treviso players hovering, but the danger was cleared. After a tough start to his tenure as head coach, Foley can breathe a little easier.

Scorers for Treviso: S Ragusi try; J Carlisle con, pen

Scorers for Munster: CJ Stander, S Zebo try each; I Keatley con, 3 pens.

TREVISO: S Ragusi; L Nitoglia, L Morisi, S Christie, M Campagnaro; J Carlisle, H Seniloli; M Muccignat, D Giazzon, R Harden; M Fuser, C van Zyl (capt); M Swanepoel, T Vallejos Cinalli, M Luamanu.

Replacements: M Barbini for Swanepoel (32 mins, inj), A Esposito for Ragusi (52), S Manu for Harden (52), J Ambrosini for Seniloli (60), M Lazzaroni for Luamanu (60), M Zanusso for Muccignat (71).

MUNSTER: F Jones (capt); A Conway, A Smith, I Dineen, S Zebo; I Keatley, D Williams; J Cronin, D Casey, S Archer; D Foley, B Holland; CJ Stander, T O’Donnell, R Copeland.

Replacements: BJ Botha for Archer (56 mins), C Sheridan for Williams (65), D O’Callaghan for Foley (74), S Dougall for O’Donnell (74), J Ryan for Cronin (73), K O’Byrne for Casey (77).

Referee: A McMenamy (SRU)

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