Saturdays’s defeat of Benetton Treviso leaves them three points behind pacesetters, Leinster, who face a tricky away assignment against Ulster.
But no matter what happens it is now onward to Thomond Park on May 20 for a semi-final clash with Scarlets or Ospreys, Munster’s spirits restored after a convincing if hard earned win over the Italians.
A 34-14 scoreline at the Stadio Monigo hardly looked likely in the early stages. Skipper Billy Holland withdrew before the kick-off feeling unwell and flanker Dave O’Callaghan and wing Ronan O’Mahony had to be helped from the field within the first 20 minutes with serious injuries.
Two minutes after the interval, Holland’s replacement Donnacha Ryan departed for Head Injury Assessment and may miss Saturday’s Connacht clash.
All of this could have spelled bad news for Munster, especially as Treviso were clearly buoyed by recent wins over the Dragons and Edinburgh, and with national coach Conor O’Shea among the decent attendance, they set their sights on a hat-trick of victories with gusto.
O’Callaghan’s esteemed replacement CJ Standers had to be vigilant as the Italians piled on the pressure but while second-row Darren O’Shea, hooker Rhys Marshall (who was adjudged man-of-the-match) and flanker Conor Oliver all impressed for the visitors.
Indeed, you suspect if Oliver had the benefit of another stone in weight and a couple of inches in height that he would quickly be regarded as one of the country’s finest open–side wing-forwards.
Meanwhile, all the indications are that Francis Saili is in the twilight of his Munster career He isn’t everybody’s idea of a classic centre but hepossesses the kind of attacking qualities capable of opening defences and exciting the fans.
On this occasion, his dancing feet enabled him to create crucial line breaks rather than into the dead ends that too often been the outcome of his endeavours.
The New Zealander’s beautifully timed passes for tries by Darren Sweetnam and AlexWootton were highlights but even they paled in comparison with the crushing and perfectly timed tackle on David Oviete that ended the interest of Treviso’s brilliant try scoring full-back in the proceedings. Considering the limited impression they made in attack the previous week against Saracens, the Munster backs took advantage of the greater degree of freedom available.
Simon Zebo (who also brought off a brilliant try saving cover tackle) displayed a beautiful line of running for the second try, the ever alert and speedy Darren Sweetnam got two and Alex Wootton, hero of the previous week’s British & Irish Cup success, made it four crackers for the back division.
However, to ensure they wouldn’t have it all their own way, the excellent Jack O’Donoghue struck for an opportunist score of his own, the Munster total completed by acting skipper Tyler Bleyendaal with a penalty and three conversions.
Treviso hardly deserved to be on the receiving end of such a heavy defeat with a brilliant try by Odiete and another at the finish by Jean Francois Montaurio and conversions by Ian McKinley, formerly of Leinster, and Tito Tebaldi.
D Odiete; A Esposito, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, L Sperandio; I McKinley, E Gori; F Zani, L Bigi, S Ferrari, M Fuser, M Budd capt, F Minto, A Steyn, R Barbieri.
JF Montaurio and M Lazzaroni for Fuser and Minto both 47; D Giazzon for Bigi 49; T Pasqalli for Ferrrari 57; A Pratichetti for Odiete 58; T Tebaldi for McKinley 62; A Porolli for Zani 67; G Bronzini for Gori 69.
S Zebo; D Sweetnam, F Saili, J Taute, R O’Mahony; T Bleyendaal, D Williams, J Cronin, R Marshall, S Archer, D O’Shea, B Holland capt, D O’Callaghan, C Oliver, J O’Donoghue.
CJ Stander for O’Callaghan 11 mins; A Wootton for O’Mahony 18; I Keatley for Taute 40; F Wycherley for Ryan 42, HIA; K O’Byrne for Marshall, A Lloyd for Williams, R Burke for Archer all 67;B Scott for Cronin 71.
Ian Davies (Wales).