Munster set up Leinster semi-final by the skin of their teeth
JJ Hanrahan’s late penalty sees province survive after Benetton threaten an upset
JJ Hanrahan kicks the winning penalty for Munster against Benetton. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Munster 15 Benetton Rugby 13
JJ Hanrahan rescued Munster with the winning penalty from halfway three minutes from time as Johann van Graan side set up a Pro14 semi-final against Leinster in two weeks’ time.
Ratuva Tavuyara’s try just before the break put Benetton on the road to the win, but Hanrahan’s late penalty and missed drop goals from Antonio Rizzi and Jayden Hayward in the closing action denied the Italians an historic first semi-final spot.
In front of a sparsely populated Thomond Park, which housed just 10,042 supporters, Munster had plenty of try scoring chances in the opening half, but butchered all of them, while Benetton made the most of their single opportunity and led 10-3 at the interval.
As early as the third minute Munster had a great chance, but their attacking lineout malfunctioned, before a knock on later in the move denied them an opening score.
But they continued to dominate, and with Darren Sweetnam and Chris Cloete looking very sharp, they remained rooted in the Benetton half. After 12 minutes Tyler Bleyendaal turned down a kick at goal in favour of going to the corner, but some excellent maul defence from Benetton forced the turnover.
A third try scoring opportunity went unclaimed after 17 minutes when Tadhg Beirne knocked on close to the line, but the home side finally took the lead in the 23rd minute when Luca Bigi strayed offside and Bleyendaal kicked the penalty.
But straight away Benetton showed some ruthless attacking play. They rolled through some slick phases before Peter O’Mahony infringed at the breakdown and Tomasso Allan kicked the penalty from in front of the posts.
As wasteful as Munster were before the break with their 62 per cent possession and 68 per cent territory, Benetton were efficient. And a minute from the break they struck. A clearance kick from Bleyendaal failed to find the safety of the crowd and Monty Ioane’s quick lineout freed Hayward. After the fullback made some easy yards his side rolled through a couple of quick phases, and eventually Marco Zanon sent Tavuyara over in the corner, with the winger scoring via a full length dive with the ball in one hand.
Munster got their second half off to a great start when Bleyendaal kicked a penalty, but after 48 minutes another shock kick to touch freed Benetton, only for Braam Steyn to knock on the final offload as the tryline beckoned.
Both Bleyendaal and Beirne were replaced after 48 minutes, and one of the new men in, JJ Hanrahan, was caught offside on the hourmark and Allan restored the seven-point lead for the Italians.
Hanrahan made it 13-9 18 minutes from time, and cut the lead to one point four minutes later after a great Arno Botha break, and he then sealed the win at the death when CJ Stander won a penalty, which was moved into a kickable position when Benetton threw the ball away.
Scorers - Munster: Pens: T Bleyendaal (2), JJ Hanrahan (3) Benetton Rugby: Tries: R Tavuyara. Cons: T Allan. Pens: T Allan (2)
Munster: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, D Sweetnam; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer; J Kleyn, T Beirne; P O’Mahony, C Cloete, CJ Stander. Replacements: B Holland for Beirne (48), JJ Hanrahan for Hanrahan (48), J Ryan for Archer (51), A Botha for Cloete (63), A Mathewson for Murray (67), D Goggin for R Scannell (70), K O’Byrne for N Scannell (73), L O’Connor for Kilcoyne (73).
Benetton Rugby: J Hayward; R Tavuyara, M Zanon, L Morisi, M Ioane; T Allan, D Duvenage; N Quaglio, L Bigi, M Riccioni; M Lazzaroni, F Ruzza; S Negri, A Steyn, T Halafihi. Replacements: T Tebaldi for Duvenage (42-48 mins, blood), H Faiva for Bigi (48), D Appiah for Quaglio (48), I Herbst for Lazzaroni (51), D Budd for Negri (51), T Pasquali for Ricconi (63), A Sgarbi for Zanon (67), A Rizzi for Allan (77).
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU).