The Italians arrived in Limerick having conceded 74 points in their opening two games in the Guinness Pro 12 against Cardiff and Ulster and ripe for another hammering. This time, they went down 31-5 to a Munster side showing definite signs of progress with man of the match Simon Zebo in unstoppable mood on the left wing. He had bagged his third try five minutes before the half time whistle, it was 17-0 by the break and by the finish that margin had been stretched to 26 points with the bonus point tucked away as early as the second minute of the second-half.
It is doubtful, though, if the game proves of any great significance in the long term. Many will understandably question the quality of last night’s opposition even it this was undoubtedly the kind of performance they will have considerably cheered up Foley and the backroom team.
While Zebo enjoyed a great night out and it was good that Paul O’Connell saw out the full 80 minutes without any apparent difficulty, a few of the lesser lights also put their hands up for selection in the bigger games that lie ahead. In this respect Ronan O’Mahony and Andrew Smith of the back division caught the eye while Tommy O’Donnell and Robin Copeland performed well enough to suggest they will challenge for recognition in the back-row.
Sadly, however, it was a luckless first competitive outing for out-half Johnny Holland who showed a few nice touches before forced off with a shoulder injury midway through the first-half. It was all the more frustrating for the Cork Con clubman in that just a few minutes previously, his delightful skip pass had created the chance for Andrew Smith to split the Italian defence and send Zebo over in the corner for the first of his three tries.
The second came on the half hour when Ronan O’Mahony on the right wing pulled off a magnificent catch off one of Conor Murray’s many well judged box kicks and, having made significant ground, cleverly switched play to the left for Zebo to again scorch over in the corner. The hat-trick was completed a few minutes later when the exuberant number 11 did outstandingly well to take a Hanrahan pass at the end of a superb 80 metre attack and touch down at the posts. Hanrahan tapped over.
Zebo just couldn’t be kept out of the limelight and it was his beautifully timed pass two minutes after half time that sent Smith over for his first Munster try. Hanrahan converted from the touchline and after that it was largely a case of playing out time. Replacement prop Dave Kilcoyne touched down for Munster’s fifth try, again converted by Hanrahan, before deep into stoppage time number eight Samuela Vunisa touched down for the visitors.
Munster scorers: Tries: Zebo 3, Smith, Kilcoyne. Cons: Hanrahan 3.
MUNSTER: Jones, R. O’Mahony, Smith, D. Hurley, Zebo, J. Holland, Murray, Cronin, Casey, Botha, B. Holland, O’Connell, Butler, O’Donnell, Copeland.
Replacements: J. Murphy for D. Hurley (67), Hanrahan for J. Holland (23), Williams for Murray (66), Kilcoyne for Cronin (57), O’Byrne for Casey (50), J. Ryan for Botha (57), D. O’Callaghan for O’Donnell (71).
Zebre scorer: Try: Vunisa.
ZEBRE: Daniller, Odiete, Bisegni, Haimona, Toniolatti, Padovani, Palazzani, Lovotti, De Marchi, Leibson, Geldenhuys, Biagi, M. Bergamasco, Cristiano, Vunisa.
Replacements: M. Bergamasco for Bisegni (49), Garcia for Padovani (60), Chillon for Palazzani (49), Manici for Lovotti (76), Chistolini for Leibson (60).
Ref: Ian Davies (Wales).