Munster recover from half-time deficit to take bonus point win over Zebre
Rob Penney’s men trail 18-9 at the break before second-half salvo of tries sees them home
Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne is tackled by Marco Bortolami of Zebre. Photograph: Giuseppe Fama/Inpho
Zebre 21 Munster 43: Munster came away with a full house on the first of their back-to-back fixtures on Italian soil on Friday night, registering a bonus point win to take them to the top of the table.
Paddy Butler, CJ Stander (2) and Ian Keatley were all among the tries for Rob Penney’s men while the outstanding JJ Hanrahan kicked everything that came his way, ending up with 21 points to his name.
For Zebre, Luciano Orquera and Andrea Manici both touched down for first half tries but it was not enough to earn them so much as a bonus point.
Hanrahan got the ball rolling for Munster with two early penalties and was generally at the heart of everything good for Penney’s men with his sweet range of passing and clever use of the boot.
However, Munster lost much of their early initiative as Zebre slowly worked their way into the game.
Orquera got the home side off the mark with a penalty and then played a leading role in the first of two controversial first-half moments. Having conceded a penalty inside their own 22, Munster retreated behind their own posts as Orquera waited for the kicking tee to arrive.
To everyone’s surprise, however, the Italian international instead chose to run the ball, dotting down for a try which referee Andrew McMenemy had no problem awarding.
Zebre’s joy should have turned to despair moments after when centre Kameli Ratuvou inexplicably upended Andrew Conway, who was later forced off with injury.
Showing more than a hint of home sympathy, however, McMenemy showed a yellow card instead of the red it deserved.
Thereafter Hanrahan and Orquera traded penalties but Zebre stole a march right on half time when hooker Manici blazed an unstoppable trail all the way to the line. Orquera’s conversion left Munster trailing 18-9 going down the tunnel.
However, Munster had turned the game completely on its head within ten minutes of the second half, 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 number eight en route to the line.
Hanrahan bisected the posts supplementing two successful long range penalty strikes, and Munster were back on terra firma.
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 Stander just enough space to burst home.
Orquera pulled back three points for 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 off a fine individual performance with his second try to put the result beyond doubt.
Hanrahan converted, his last action before coming off for Keatley, who scored a try with his first meaningful contribution to secure the bonus point win.
Zebre: R Trevisan; L Sarto, K Ratuvou, G Garcia, G Venditti; L Orquera, B Leonard; S Perugini, A Manici, L Redolfini; Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (capt); F Ferrarini, A Van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa. Replacements: D Giazzon for Manici (60 mins), M Aguero for Perugini (50 mins), D Chistolini for Redolini (50 mins), T Iannone for Garcia (60 mins), G Biagi for Bortolami (69 mins), D Berryman for Trevisan (69 mins).
Munster: D Hurley; A Conway, C Laulala, I Dineen, J Murphy; JJ Hanrahan, C Sheridan; D Kilcoyne, D Varley (Capt.), J Ryan; D Ryan, I Nagle; CJ Stander, T O’Donnell, P Butler. Replacements: J Downey for Conway (32-37, 41 mins), D Foley for Nagle (32 mins), M Sherry for Varley (64 mins), S Archer for Ryan (64 mins), N Ronan for O’Donnell (67 mins), J Cronin for Kilcoyne (69 mins), D Williams for Sheridan,, I Keatley for Hanrahan (both 72 mins) .
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (SRU).
* This article was amended on September 17th to correct a number of errors