Benetton Treviso 5 Munster 28: The final throes of a European pool campaign and the accompanying extremes of emotion were for places other than Stadio di Monigo.
Joy was confined to the supporters’ bars, sorrow restricted to a Treviso management resigned to yet another defeat in a winless streak that has now stretched to 25 games going way back to last February.
For Munster, there was satisfaction at a well-deserved bonus-point victory to complete their Champions Cup schedule and an appreciation of the large numbers of travelling fans that cheered them to it, but for all involved with the province there was the underlying deep disappointment that this away win should have meant an awful lot more.
For the second season in succession, Munster were left to rue missed opportunities, not least in a home defeat that should have been avoided. That Thomond Park reverse to Leicester Tigers in round three last month, born in essence from a collective meltdown just before half-time which saw the game swing from even stevens at 6-6 with six minutes to go into an 18-6 deficit at the break is what killed the province’s hopes, just as defeat at home to Clermont had the previous season.
Just as telling was the failure to pick up losing bonus points at Welford Road the following week and then in Paris to Stade Francais in round five and those were the factors head coach Anthony Foley could not help but reflect on as he reflected on a bonus-point win in Treviso last night.
The rebound win over Stade in Limerick the previous Saturday had brought a bonus point too late to matter a damn and here was another won, delivered by two maiden European tries from wing Ronan O’Mahony and a score each from Dave Kilcoyne and Conor Murray, his second in as many weeks.
So as Chiefs, Saints and Wasps put their backsides on the line and teams from Belfast to Bordeaux were going for broke this weekend, Munster were reduced to bystanders in their 150th top-level European fixture.
“We made a rod for our own backs,” Foley said. “You look at the results today, we definitely needed to get a result at home to Leicester, we all know that, but then you need to be more ruthless away from home to make sure you get something out of those games. It’s not realistic to think you’re going to win every game in the competition.
“We understand that but it’s very disappointing, some of our performances in the earlier stages of the competition.”
Foley must now turn Munster’s attentions to the Pro12 league campaign, which resumes in short order with a return trip to Italy next Saturday at Zebre and he left Treviso last night only too aware that although results are now being rectified following a dreadful run of defeats either side of Christmas there is still plenty to put right in terms of performance.
This was a comfortable victory in a scrappy game not helped by an inexperienced referee’s fondness for the whistle but against opposition other than a Treviso side without a win in 11 months the error count could have been just as costly as it proved against Leicester and Stade.
Munster had gone 14-0 up inside 16 minutes thanks to those tries from O’Mahony and Kilcoyne, converted by Ian Keatley, who would send all four of his kicks over the crossbar but then started playing fast and loose in what appeared to be an effort to replicate what Foley had called “six minutes of madness” that had undone them at home to the Tigers in December.
Treviso were handed a way back into the game before half-time when a succession of penalty concessions allowed the Italian side to get upfield, pressure Munster through their maul and then exploit a yellow card for Billy Holland after an accumulation of pings to drive over an undermanned pack to go in just 14-5 down.
Different problems to the ones that had undermined Munster when their season went off the rails, basic errors undoing plentiful but often sterile possession, but the same effect in producing a frustrated head coach.
“It’s different now,” Foley said. “We’re making good breaks up the pitch and fellas are throwing blind passes, so it’s not from just dropping the ball stone cold or anything like that, it’s just that lack of execution at times and I think maybe the two scores we got came too early and fellas got a bit loose in the game.
“Early on, we put a good physical stamp on it and once we built a score I think we felt we could try and score from everywhere, which is the wrong attitude to have over here. Treviso are a very good side with a very good pack and they got right back into the game and we allowed that to happen and so that’s a big thing for fellas to understand.”
It would be a fair guess to surmise that the Munster coaches gave their players something of a rocket at half-time because the province came out with renewed focus and effectiveness for the second period.
“It was just around the lack of control at times,” Foley said. “We made good breaks in the game but we didn’t support the ball and made poor decisions in terms of when to pass the ball. We seemed to do it while we were in the tackle rather post- or pre-tackle. That gave us a lack of control. Then we had a few short kicks out of our own half, which they capitalised upon, so it’s just that lack of control. That was the thing we addressed at half-time.”
Munster drove Treviso over the line within three minutes of the restart only for referee Ruiz to halt a bemused Keatley just as he was about to begin the conversion attempt and overturn the try after the intervention of the TMO.
It mattered not in the scheme of things, Treviso remained on the back foot, with Murray turning that dominance into points as he broke through a gap at the tail of a lineout inside the 22 to score under the posts and then O’Mahony grabbed his second out wide, Keatley up to the task with his kick five metres in from the left. Munster are winning again but they’re not out of the woods quite yet.
J Hayward; A Pratichetti, E Bacchin (S Christie, 63), A Sgarbi, S Ragusi (T Iannone, 45); J Ambrosini (L McLean, 67), A Lucchese; M Zanusso (A De Marchi, 63), O Gega (D Giazzon, 45), S Ferrari (S Manu, 45); M Fuser, J-F Montauriol (T Palmer, 45); M Lazzaroni (M Barbini, 63), A Zanni - captain, A Steyn.
S Zebo; K Earls, F Saili, R Scannell (G van den Heever, 68), R O’Mahony; I Keatley, C Murray (T O’Leary, 73); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin, 45), M Sherry (N Scannell, 63), J Ryan (M Sagario, 67); D Foley (M Chisholm, 68), D Ryan; B Holland (R Copeland, 63), T O’Donnell, CJ Stander – captain (J O’Donoghue, 54).
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
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