Munster get over slow start to claim bonus-point win over Benetton

Coach Johann van Graan made 13 changes ahead of Pro 14 decider against Leinster

Munster 31 Benetton Rugby 17

A Munster side showing 13 changes from last week warmed up for next week’s Guinness Pro 14 showdown with Leinster by coming good after the break to score a bonus-point win at Thomond Park.

With four players making their first start it was hardly surprising that it took Munster some time to get on top but with 21-year old Thomas Ahern leading the way in the secondrow and his fellow Waterford man Jack O'Donoghue skippering the side well, they took control.

They did enough to cross four times for the bonus point, with Benetton, without a win all season, and a top-class debut from referee Hollie Davidson all contributing to an entertaining match.

Benetton, who have nine players starting against Scotland this weekend, hit the front after 23 minutes with a quality score. Outhalf Tommaso Allan changed the point of an attack with a penalty advantage and with Angelo Esposito escaping Liam Coombes's tackle, centre Joaquin Riera and number eight Giovanni Pettinelli showed great hands to send scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage over in the right corner. Allan landed a superb conversion.

A high tackle by flanker Manuel Zuliani on Rory Scannell presented JJ Hanrahan with his first kick and he duly obliged from 40 metres after 26 minutes.

And they hit the front in the final play of the half when the pack finally made ground before replacement scrumhalf Nick McCarthy, on for the injured Paddy Patterson, fed Scannell with a fine pass and in turn he sent his centre partner Alex McHenry over for his first Munster try. Hanrahan's conversion made it 10-7 at the break.

Munster extended their lead seven minutes after the restart when Keynan Knox used all his power to drive over for his first try after a penalty to the corner.

Matt Gallagher came on for his first action since suffering a shoulder injury in November to replace Jake Flannery who had a solid first start at fullback.

Roman Salanoa, aided by a good latch from O'Donoghue, drove over shortly after coming on and they secured the bonus point when Ben Healy, looking very sharp when he replaced the impressive Hanrahan, combined with Coombes to score a try he converted superbly from the left wing.

Benetton, who will have an opportunity next week in a refixed match against Glasgow to avoid joining Zebre and Caerphilly as the only sides not to win a game in the league throughout a season, crossed for tries from replacement hooker Corniel Els and a superb effort from deep which was finished by Pettinelli.

MUNSTER: J Flannery; A Conway, A McHenry, R Scannell, L Coombes; JJ Hanrahan, P Patterson; L O'Connor, D Barron, K Knox; C Hurley, T Ahern; J O'Donoghue, C Cloete, J O'Sullivan.

Replacements: N McCarthy for Patterson (37 mins), M Gallagher for Flannery (51 mins), R Marshall for Barron, J Loughman for O'Connor (57 mins), R Salanoa for Knox (all 57 mins), B Healy for Hanrahan (59 mins), J Daly for Cloete (67 mins), T O'Donnell for O'Donoghue (69 mins).

BENETTON RUGBY: J Hayward; R Tavuyara, J Riera, L Morisi, A Esposito; T Allan, D Duvenage; N Quaglio, T Baravalle, F Alongi; I Herbst, E Snyman; A Sgarbi M Zuliani, G Pettinelli.

Replacements: T Gallo for Quaglio (h/t), T Pasquali for Alongi, C Els for Baravalle (both 51 mins), L Sarto for Tavuyara (56 mins), L Petrozzi for Duvenage, T Benvenuti for Morisi, N Piantella for Herbst (all 59 mins), M Barbini for Zuliani (71 mins).

Referee: H Davidson (SRU).