Munster win with far from vintage display

Munster 33 Zebre 5: Munster coach Johann van Graan accurately summed up the view of the majority of Saturday night’s sparse Thomond Park attendance when he commented that “this won’t go down as the greatest game in the history of Munster”.

Munster win with far from vintage display

But then he added: “We came out firstly with the win and we are happy with the five points, most importantly had no serious injuries and two guys got their first caps with Munster.”

One of the duo van Graan referred to was fellow South African Gerbrandt Grobler, who served a two-year ban following a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs earlier in his career.

“Our team was very chuffed for Gerbrandt and John Poland to get their first caps,” he said.

“To be honest, I don’t want to comment on that (controversy) anymore. I said what I wanted to say a few weeks back.

“It was great to see the crowd give Gerbrandt a good welcome once he got on to the field.”

Initially, Munster made heavy weather of taking the five points from a game that initially seemed to be a pushover against the weakened Italians.

Five successive penalties were conceded in the first 12 minutes and 25 had elapsed, not all of them by any means contested in Italian territory, before the impressive Sammy Arnold broke the deadlock.

Even then, Zebre coach Michael Bradley felt some illegal blocking contributed to the score and the former Ireland great also lamented that three more of the five Munster tries came from his side’s line-out throws.

So it was little surprise that van Graan should have been less than thrilled by his own side’s performance.

“You see opportunities and you try to use those opportunities but the wind out there was sometimes ridiculous, it was really tough,” he reasoned.

“We did force it at the start but readjusted well after 22 minutes, got in at half-time, made some more adjustments in terms of our plan and I felt we had a pretty good second half.”

The coach was impressed with the Sammy Arnold-Dan Goggin centre partnership given that both had missed large chunks of the season for various reasons. He also pointed to “the changes in the team, all through front-rows, locks, loose forwards, half-backs, centres, back three”, even admitting that “we as coaches maybe over-trained the team a bit over the last two weeks”.

He explained: “We knew we had to put in a lot of hard work because we know what to expect in the play-offs in April and May. All credit to the guys, I think we made 50 or 60 tackles in the last ten minutes which shows that our fitness is improving.”

While Saturday’s starting team will bear little resemblance to those that line out in the latter stages of the European Cup and the Guinness PRO14, van Graan is happy that the group is developing according to plan.

“When I came in November, I said it was not about superstars, it was not about starting XVs, it was not about a 23, it was about a squad,” he stressed.

“At this part of the season, you need your squad. We said to the players ‘put us under pressure come that quarter-final against Toulon’.

“I thought a few guys made the first step tonight and I’m very happy that we came through without big injuries although it was by no means a perfect performance.”

Scorers for Munster:

Sammy Arnold 2 tries; Brian Scott, Robin Copeland, Rory Scannell, 1 try each; Ian Keatley 3 cons; JJ Hanrahan one con.

Scorers for Zebre:

Gugliemo Palazanni try.

MUNSTER:

S Zebo; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, D Goggin, A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, D Williams; J Cronin, N Scannell, B Scott, J Kleyn, B Holland capt, J O’Donoghue, C Oliver, R Copeland.

Replacements:

I Keatley and R Scannell for Hanrahan and Goggin 51; J Ryan for Scott 53; K O’Byrne, G Grobler and J Poland for N Scannell, Kleyn and Williams 60; D O’ Callaghan for O’Donoghue 66; J Loughman for Cronin 67.

ZEBRE:

C Gaffney; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, G Afamasaga, G Venditti; S Bordoli, G Palazzani; C Ah-Nau, G D’Apice, E Gello, G Biagi capt, D Sisi, G Giammarioli, J Meyer, J Tuivati.

Replacements (all used):

L Luus, A De Marchi, R Tenga, L Krumow, D Minnie, R Raffaele, M Azzolini, R Parata.

Referee:

Ben Whitehouse (Wales).

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