‘Massive’ lift for Munster

Zebre 7 Munster 31: Munster got the result and — for 40 minutes at least — the performance they wanted in Italy which sends them into next Saturday’s vital Champions Cup clash with Saracens.

But while Munster blew a poor Zebre side away in the opening half, they stepped off the gas when they wrapped up the bonus point just after the restart.

Aside from the result, though, the big bonus on Saturday was the return of Keith Earls and James Cronin from injury, with the pair coming off the bench and coming through unscathed.

Foley said they would probably be in the reckoning for the trip to London and he also said that Conor Murray would be fine. He missed the loss in Connacht and had to go off when he crashed into a post scoring a try on Saturday but he returned for the second half.

Earls, who has never played under Joe Schmidt, looked sharp when introduced and loosehead Cronin was also in top form and Foley said their return lifted the whole squad.

“It was good to see Earlsy flying into a few tackles and Jamesie being his robust self out there. It gives the whole squad a massive lift to have quality players coming back of that calibre.

“Two boys who had been training hard in the background. It was a great opportunity for them to throw their hat into the ring particularly with next week in mind.

Foley’s side opened up a 24-0 interval lead but Munster, who failed to score in the second half of their away losses to Glasgow and Connacht, faltered again after the break.

“It is something we need to look into, the second-half. But in fairness to Zebre they came out in the second-half and for four or five minutes we didn’t touch the ball. But I’m happy with the result, happy with the five points, getting the bonus point against the run of play in the second-half. But I thought we did enough in the first-half to warrant a result. We have come away relatively unscathed in terms of injuries. It is good to get back on the winning ways.

“We wanted to build the game on pace and momentum and we achieved that. We were fortunate enough to get a couple of good scores and maintain momentum on the game. Unfortunately we didn’t do that in the second-half and it became a dour affair to be honest.

He will now turn his attentions to the Champions Cup with Saracens away on Saturday and then, he hopes, a clash with Sale Sharks at Thomond Park with qualification hanging on it but Foley said he wasn’t looking beyond next weekend.

“We are not looking at two weeks. We are looking at Saracens, it is going to be a huge game and it is important that we are going over there in the right frame of mind and give ourselves a chance.”

Ian Keatley crowned his contract extension with a superb display in the opening half and JJ Hanrahan showed glimpses of what the province will miss next season when he goes to Northampton.

Once again CJ Stander led a dominant pack as they wrapped up the issue by half-time. Keatley set up Felix Jones for the opening try which pushed them 10-0 ahead and they never looked back.

Stander got the second from a tap and go free-kick and then Murray barged over to leave it 24-0 at the break.

Murray went off when he was injured but returned at the start of the second half when Simon Zebo wrapped up the bonus point shortly after a good chip from Ronan O’Mahony in a counter-attack.

There was a consolation try for Zebre when replacement loosehead Oliviero Fabiani scored

Scorers for Zebre: Try: O Fabiani; Conversion: L Orquera.

Scorers for Munster: Tries: F Jones, CJ Stander, C Murray, S Zebo; Conversions: I Keatley (4); Penalties: I Keatley.

ZEBRE: D Odiete; G Venditti, T Iannone, K Haimona, L Sarto; E Padovani, B Leonard; A de Marchi, A Manici, L Redolfini; Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (capt); F Cristiano, Mauro Bergamasco, A van Schalkwyk.

Replacements: O Fabiani for Manici (23), G Palazzani for Venditti (40), L Orquera for Padovani (40 — 43), Mirco Bergamasco for Orquera (43), V Bernabò for Mauro Bergamasco (52), J Sarto for Cristiano (52), D Chistolini for Redolfini (54), Orquera for Haimona (55), L Leibson for de Marchi (66).

MUNSTER: F Jones; R O’Mahony, P Howard, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; E Guinazu, K O’Byrne, S Archer; D Foley, B Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, P O’Mahony (capt), CJ Stander.

Replacements: D Williams for Murray (32 – 40), N Scannell for O’Byrne (48), J Cronin for Guinazu (48), K Earls for R O’Mahony (52), Williams for Murray (57), Donncha O’Callaghan for Foley (61), P Butler for P O’Mahony (66), J Murphy for Keatley (69).

Referee: Ian Davies (WRU).

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