Bonus Pro14 start for Munster

Munster 34 Benetton Rugby 3: New league, new season, same old Italians.

Bonus Pro14 start for Munster

Munster got their Guinness Pro14 campaign up and running with a bonus-point victory over the artists formerly known as Treviso but will have learned little about their ability to occupy centre stage over the coming months.

There was much for the 7,851 crowd to enjoy from a bright home performance at a near sell-out Musgrave Park on a perfect night for rugby in Cork, not least a sparkling performance from man of the match and try-scorer Andrew Conway in this six tries to nil rout. Yet the feeble nature of the challenge posed by the opposition means nobody in the Munster camp will be getting too carried away by the scoreline.

Furthermore there was the sobering sight of replacement centre Dan Goggin leaving the field on a stretcher late on to remove any thoughts of over celebration.

Munster had their try bonus point locked in by the 31st minute as Benetton failed to deliver on the expectation their off-season signings had promised and the men in red looked particularly sharp given their limited pre-season game time, having had just one behind closed doors practice game with Connacht and a friendly at Worcester Warriors.

The Italian challenge was a weak one. Star signing Marty Banks, having swapped Super Rugby in New Zealand with the Highlanders for a role as a virtual spectator in the Treviso fly-half berth, saw his main involvement being executing restarts as Munster racked up the points with clinical efficiency.

Lock Jean Kleyn was the first over the try line after nine minutes from close range after a period of multi-phase pressure, captain Tyler Bleyendaal converting for an early 7-0 lead.

Bleyendaal grabbed a try seven minutes later in similar fashion after Munster forced the visitors to defend at length in front of their posts.

Bleyendaal missed the conversion attempt but it would not affect the outcome. Banks got his team on the scoresheet with a 20th-minute penalty from in front of the posts but it did not spell a fightback from the Italians. Munster wing Darren Sweetnam was next over, in the right corner after some clever footwork and hard graft to break through from close range as Munster returned to the ascendancy. And though Bleyendaal missed the conversion, his backline was in full flow with ball in hand.

Sharpest of the bunch was full-back Andrew Conway, catching the ball in midfield from a Benetton clearance and breaking brilliantly into open space before offloading from the ground to keep the ball alive. Out it went along the line to left wing Alex Wootton, who beat his defender to score in the left corner to bring up the bonus point.

Another missed conversion will have affected only Bleyendaal’s confidence off the tee as Munster powered on towards half-time, Conway again showing great pace and excellent feet to sidestep his marker and race away into the corner. Again the additional two points were foregone but Munster went in at the break with a commanding 27-3 lead.

The only question was how big the points difference would be and Munster set about improving on it further, aided by an early second-half yellow card for Benetton flanker Francesco Minto, ordered off for 10 minutes after a deliberate knock on close to his line.

It merely delayed the inevitable as Munster pounced from the resultant scrum, Jack O’Donoghue carrying off the back and Kleyn carrying over for his second try of the night, driven over by his pack-mates.

Bleyendaal made no mistake from close range and was soon after switched to inside centre as Ian Keatley replaced Jaco Taute and taking up residency at fly-half. It was one of a flurry of substitutions, starting with hooker Mike Sherry’s welcome return from 16 months out injured, though he replaced a limping Rhys Marshall.

Centre Chris Farrell and the impressive academy flanker Sean O’Connor had made starting debuts, the equally comfortable academy loosehead Liam O’Connor making his first senior start, joined later by scrum-half James Hart and prop Ciaran Parker as Munster eased into the final quarter of the game without coming under undue pressure.

MUNSTER:

A Conway; D Sweetnam, C Farrell (D Goggin, 67), J Taute (I Keatley, 50), A Wootton; T Bleyendaal – captain, D Williams (J Hart, 56); L O’Connor (B Scott, 69), R Marshall (M Sherry, 41), S Archer (C Parker, 63); J Kleyn (F Wycherley, 61), B Holland (R Copeland, 59); S O’Connor, T O’Donnell, J O’Donoghue.

BENETTON RUGBY:

I McKinley; A Esposito, T Benvenuti, T Allan, E Gori; M Banks, T Tebaldi (G Bronzini, 50); F Zani ( A De Marchi, 50), L Bigi (E Makelara, 50), S Ferrari (M Riccioni, 54); M Lazzaroni (A Sgarbi, 67), D Budd – captain (F Ruzza, 59); F Minto, S Negri (A Steyn, 63), W Douglas.

Referee:

I Davies (Wales) end

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