Munster 21 Zebre 5
It was far from flawless but the win was all that mattered for Munster as they finally got their season, and Graham Rowntree’s reign, up and running with their first win of the URC campaign in an error-ridden encounter at Musgrave Park.
Two preseason losses at the Cork venue and a couple of URC defeats in Wales meant there was a bit of pressure on Rowntree’s men to shake off their shoddiness and get their first win on the board, and while they managed to secure the victory there clearly is a lot of work to do.
The inability to secure a bonus point against lowly Zebre and a failure to score in the second half for the second game in a row will ensure alarm bells will continue to ring.
Munster dominated a stop-start opening half which took 55 minutes to complete and they were well on their way to their first win of the season when they led by 21-0.
Zebre, who only won one match last season, had shown flashes of improvement even though they lost their opening two games, but they were all at sea in this one, not least in the lineout where, remarkably, they lost eight of their own throws before half-time with Peter O’Mahony pinching most of them.
That sort of wastage meant Munster were not overly stretched in defence and they were much sharper in attack, cutting out a lot of the basic errors which were evident in their opening losses away to Cardiff and Dragons.
All three opening half tries came from lineout mauls, with hooker Niall Scannell getting two of them. He got his first after nine minutes after a good maul, while tighthead Kenyan Knox struck after 18 minutes following a lineout on the right.
A tapped penalty from Craig Casey set in flow a move which Jack O’Donoghue finished but it was whistled back on review over the grounding.
The reprieve was short-lived for the Italians. Munster went to the left corner with a penalty and the drive again ended with Scannell scoring and Ben Healy adding his third conversion.
Zebre reduced the margin six minutes after the restart when a chip from Jacopo Trulla bounced horribly for Healy and Lorenzo Pani pounced to score.
Stephen Archer came on for this 250th Munster appearance and Conor Murray made his seasonal bow as Munster emptied the bench but it was well inside the final quarter before they again threatened the Zebre 22 and even then never looked like getting the fourth try.
History was made when 18-year old Ruadhan Quinn, who did his Leaving Cert this summer, became Munster’s youngest ever player in the professional era when he came on for the closing six minutes in front of a crowd of 6,485.
Scorers: Munster: Tries: N Scannell (2), K Knox. Cons: B Healy (3).
Zebre: Try: L Pani.
Munster: M Haley; C Phillips, M Fekitoa, D Goggin, P Campbell; B Healy, C Casey; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, K Knox; F Wycherley, T Beirne; J O’Donoghue, P O’Mahony (c), J O’Sullivan.
Replacements: S Archer for Know (47mins), S Buckley for N Scannell (50mins), J Loughman for Kilcoyne (50mins), J Carbery for Healy (50mins), C Murray for Casey (50mins), E Edogbo for Wycherley(58mins), R Scannell for Goggin (60mins), R Quinn for O’Sullivan (74mins).
Zebre Parma: R Kriel; P Bruno, E Cronjé, E Lucchin (c), J Trulla; T Eden, A Fusco; J Pitinari, G Ribaldi, I Neculai; G Venditti, L Krumov; D Ruggeri, MJ Pelser, T Fox-Matamua.
Replacements: F Smith for Cronjé (13 mins), L Pani for Lucchin (31mins), N Casilio for Smith (37mins), J Bianchi for Pelser (half-time), L Bigi for Ribaldi (half-time)L Rizzoli for Pitinari (53mins), M Nocera for Neculai (53mins), J Furno for Fox-Matamua (59mins).
Referee: AJ Jacobs (South Africa).