Zebre 25 Munster 27
Munster concluded their campaign on a winning note in Parma last night where Rob Penney’s men avoided the ignominy of becoming the first ever side to lose to Zebre, who finish up with an unenviable record of 22 losses from 22 games.
Munster’s main concern was the avoidance of injury against a fiery bunch embodied by the ever-batty Mauro Bergamasco. And given events four years ago when Tomás O’Leary fell at the final hurdle prior to boarding the Lions jet, there was a collective sigh of relief when Paul O’Connell came through the full 80 minutes unscathed.
Johnny Murphy set the ball rolling on five minutes with a try straight off the training paddock after Denis Hurley and Casey Laulala combined well in midfield to set him free wide on the touchline.
The defending, it must be said, wasn’t all that convincing, and nor was the Munster tackling shortly after when Zebre wing Sinoti Sinoti touched down for Zebre’s first try.
Midway through the half, Munster had scored their second try, however, Paddy Butler burying over from close range after the forwards had made the hard yards.
Ian Keatley converted but indiscipline in the Munster ranks allowed Zebre to keep in touch, with Australian outhalf Daniel Halangahu kicking most everything that came his way.
He nailed three penalties from three attempts in the opening half-hour to leave the scores tied at 14-14, the paltry home crowd growing in belief with each passing minute.
Of the interesting confrontations up front, ex-Munster prop Dave Ryan seemed to be relishing the challenge and was busy putting himself about in the loose.
In the tight, however, John Ryan and Dave Kilcoyne held a slight upper hand at scrum time, paving the way for many of Munster’s best attacking plays.
But it was in defence where Munster struggled most, missing first-up tackles and allowing Zebre to break their first line of defence with ease.
Sinoti thought he had a second try just before half time but the TMO ruled against him. However, from the resulting scrum, Zebre stretched Munster out wide without expending too much effort, allowing Italian international Giovanbattista Venditti just enough space to cross the chalk.
Halangahu was off target with the conversion, but Gonzalo Garcia knocked over a long-range penalty on the whistle to send Zebre down the tunnel with a 22-14 lead.
Into the second half, then, and Munster quickly went about their task.
Keatley pulled back three points with a sweetly struck penalty, and then watched with relief as Garcia went narrowly wide.
Midway through the half Keatley traded penalties with Halangahu, but Zebre still had a five-point advantage to protect, and they tackled with everything they had.
With signs of pressure starting to show, Keatley badly skewed a kickable penalty, but just as the wheels were in danger of buckling completely, BJ Botha came off the bench and settled visiting nerves, bundling over for a try with his first touch.
Keatley converted to nudge Munster into a two-point lead, but they were again living dangerously.
Halangahu grazed the posts with a penalty attempt five minutes from time after a long period of home pressure close to the Munster line.
That was as close as they came and Munster saw out the game with relative ease.
Scorers for Zebre: Tries: Sinoti, Venditti. Pens: Halangahu 4, Garcia
Scorers for Munster: Tries Murphy, Butler. Cons: Keatley 3. Pen: Keatley 2
ZEBRE: R Trevisan; G Venditti, A Benettin, G Garcia, S Sinoti; D Halangahu, T Tebaldi; M Aguero, D Giazzon (A Manici 47), D Ryan (L Leibson 57); J Sole, M Bortolami (capt); F Ferrarini, M Bergamasco, A Van Schalkwyk (F Cristiano 79)
MUNSTER: D Hurley; R O’Mahony, C Laulala, I Keatley, J Murphy; JJ Hanrahan (C Bohane 66), C Sheridan (D Williams 55); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 63), M Sherry, J Ryan (BJ Botha 63); B Holland (I Nagle 58), P O’Connell (capt); Dave O’Callaghan, S Dougall (N Ronan 58), P Butler.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (SRU).
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