Darren Sweetnam scored the bonus-point try six minutes from time to celebrate his first start since October against 14-man Zebre in Italy.
A late call up due to an injury to Shane Daly in the warm-up, Sweetnam rounded off the win for Munster, who played against 14 players for 70 minutes following the sending off of Pierre Bruno.
Played at Stade Giovanni Mari near Milan, the home of Serie D team AC Legano, Munster were very poor in the first half and only had an 11th minute try from Calvin Nash and JJ Hanrahan’s conversion to celebrate.
But Hanrahan and Rory Scannell scored soon after the restart, while Sweetnam wrapped up the five-point victory as Munster maintain pace with Conference B leaders Edinburgh.
Zebre should have taken the lead after ten minutes, but winger Bruno missed a simple kick in front of the posts in the fourth minute.
Six minutes later the Zebre winger had his last involvement when he earned a red card for a bull-bar strike to the throat on Chris Cloete, and from the penalty that followed Munster struck. Their driving lineout made good yardage before Craig Casey’s chip over the top was touched down by Nash.
Unfortunately for Niall Scannell, his first time captaining Munster only lasted 22 minutes when he limped off after a good Munster defensive maul collapsed on him, although his brother Rory took on the leadership duties in his absence.
With six changes to the team that scored ten tries last week there was bound to be misfires in attack from Munster, and it encouraged the 14 men of Zebre, but they were unable to convert any of their four close range lineouts.
Even with the numerical disadvantage Zebre bossed the territorial and possession battles – some aimless kicking and poor basics from Munster assisted them – but they were unable to find a score and Munster led 7-0 at half-time.
The loss of Casey six minutes after the break due to a hand injury he picked up in the second minute was the latest setback for Munster, but their play certainly improved after the restart.
And after a couple of powerful Jeremy Loughman carries Hanrahan broke the line for Munster’s second try after 53 minutes.
Thriving on the quicker ball provided Munster struck again four minutes later. Once again the pack made the hard yards in close, while Hanrahan’s long, looped pass sent Rory Scannell over in the corner, before he repeated the dose for the bonus point try for Sweetnam six minutes from time.
Zebre deserved a score but their relentless pressure late on came to nought and Munster’s second half gained the ultimate reward.
Scorers for Munster: C Nash, JJ Hanrahan, R Scannell tries; JJ Hanrahan 4 cons
ZEBRE: J Laloifi; P Balekana (E Lucchin56), J Elliott, T Boni, P Bruno; F Brummer (P Paolo 64), J Renton (N Casilio 52); D Rimepelli (R Burgnara 56), M Ceciliani (M Luccardi 62), E Bello (M Nocera 62); M Kearney, I Nagle (G Biagi 55); M Mbanda, J Tuivaiti (L Krumov 56), R Giammarioli.
MUNSTER: M Haley; C Nash, S Arnold (D Goggin 64), R Scannell, D Sweetnam; JJ Hanrahan, C Casey (N Cronin 46); J Cronin (J Loughman 49), N Scannell (K O’Byrne 22), J Ryan (S Archer 49); F Wycherley, D O’Shea (G Coombes 64); A Botha (T O’Donnell 64), C Cloete, J O’Sullivan.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales).