Zebre 21 Munster 41
Munster came from behind in Italy last night to register their second bonus-point win of the new season, taking them to the summit of the RaboDirect Pro12.
Rob Penney’s men looked to be up against it at half-time against a fired-up Zebre outfit who outscored them two tries to zero during a torrid opening 40 minutes for the visiting party.
Luciano Orquera and Andrea Manici were both among the tries for the long-suffering Parma outfit, who came into the game still searching for their first win as a professional entity, and had begun to think they might just get it as they went down the tunnel at the break leading 18-9.
However, their hopes were dashed as Munster went through the gears in the second half, scoring four tries and 32 points in a striking display of patience and panache.
Paddy Butler, Denis Hurley, CJ Stander and Ian Keatley all touched down for the visitors while the outstanding JJ Hanrahan kicked everything that came his way, ending up with 21 points in a man-of-the-match display.
“We were really struggling in that first half,” admitted Munster coach Rob Penney.
“To give them the lead that we did was very concerning.
“But the way in which the guys turned that around in the second half made me very proud.”
Munster knew from the previous season’s encounter they wouldn’t have it all their own way, and so it proved in a first half dominated by two controversial refereeing decisions.
The first came with Munster leading 6-3 courtesy of two penalties by Hanrahan, and involved his opposite number Orquera, who caught the visitors by surprise by running a penalty having shaped to kick it.
To everyone’s astonishment, referee Andrew McMenemy raised his hand aloft and awarded the try, a decision which left the visiting coaching staff hopping mad.
The Scottish official then caused further outrage when he failed to show a red card to Zebre centre Kameli Ratuvou who inexplicably upended Munster debutant Andrew Conway, who was later forced to leave the pitch due to injury.
“I was pleased that refereeing decisions didn’t cost us the game,” said Penney.
“Regarding the try, the referee will probably reflect on his decision and know exactly what to do when he finds himself in that position the next time.
“Regarding the tackle, from my understanding you work your way backwards from red when the head is driven into the ground below the feet, and that was certainly a borderline case.
“But for the game’s sake, it was probably a positive thing that he stayed on.”
Certainly, Munster were left a little shaken by events — they also lost Ian Nagle due to a foot injury — and though Hanrahan pulled back a penalty, they dropped their guard right on the stroke of half-time to allow hooker Manici in for a soft try, pushing Zebre into an 18-9 lead.
However, Munster had turned the game completely on its head within 10 minutes of the restart, scoring an average of one point per minute during an impressive purple patch which saw Butler go over for a fantastic score.
The try came from deep with Johne Murphy launching a cutting counter attack before combining with Hurley, who fed his supporting No 8 en route to the line.
Hanrahan bisected the posts supplementing two successful long range penalty strikes, and Munster were back on terra firma, leading 22-18 with a half-hour still to play.
Ten minutes later and the game looked up for the hapless Italians, who folded in the face of immense pressure by the visitors, eventually allowing Hurley just enough space to burst home.
Orquera pulled back three points for the Zebre but they were by now struggling to hold on against the enormous swell. Gaps were opening up left, right and centre and back-rower Stander capped a fine individual performance with a try to put the result beyond doubt.
Hanrahan converted, his last action of the match before coming off for Keatley, who scored a try with his first meaningful contribution to put the icing on the cake.
Scorers for Zebre: Try: Orquera, Manici. Con: Orquera. Pens: Orquera 3
Scorers for Munster: Tries: Butler, Hurley, Stander, Keatley. Cons: Hanrahan 3, Keatley. Pens: Hanrahan 5
ZEBRE: R Trevisan (D Berryman 69); L Sarto, K Ratuvou, G Garcia (T Iannone 60), G Venditti; L Orquera, B Leonard; S Perugini (M Aguero 50), A Manici (D Giazzon 60), L Redolfini (D Chistolini 50); Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (capt) (G Biagi 69); F Ferrarini, A Van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa
MUNSTER: D Hurley; A Conway (J Downey 32-37, 41), C Laulala, I Dineen, J Murphy; JJ Hanrahan (I Keatley 72), C Sheridan (D Williams 72); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 69), D Varley (Capt.) (M Sherry 64), J Ryan (S Archer 64); D Ryan, I Nagle (D Foley 32); CJ Stander, T O’Donnell (N Ronan 67), P Butler.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (SRU).
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