Munster maintain home run
Published 23/03/2014 | 18:02
Munster beat Benetton Treviso 14-3 to maintain their 100% home record in this season's RaboDirect PRO12 and climb back into second place in the standings.
It was a first half to forget for Rob Penney's men at Thomond Park, the only saving grace being Keith Earls' 37th-minute try which put them 7-3 ahead at half-time.
The performances of Johne Murphy and man-of-the-match Felix Jones stood out in a dour encounter that was decided by James Downey's second successive try for the Irish province.
Downey scored while Treviso hooker Giovanni Maistri was in the sin-bin and a heavy rain shower spoiled any hope of further tries in the final quarter.
The result saw Munster get back to winning ways ahead of next weekend's crunch Aviva Stadium clash with leaders Leinster.
Treviso managed to beat Munster at home earlier in the season and they took a third minute lead here thanks to a 35-metre penalty from Mat Berquist.
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell was pulled out of the hosts' line-up before kick-off due to a 'slight shoulder niggle', although he did appear on the pitch at half-time with the Six Nations trophy.
Italian international Angelo Esposito was prominent during Treviso's promising start and the visitors held onto their lead as JJ Hanrahan pulled a 20th minute penalty wide.
Misfiring Munster threatened the try-line for the first time when Casey Laulala kicked through for fit-again winger Earls, who was making his first appearance since January - but Esposito was alive to the danger.
Hanrahan uncharacteristically sent a second kickable penalty to the left and wide after Manoa Vosawai collapsed a maul.
Berquist slid a long range penalty wide before Munster conjured up a timely opening try. Out-half Hanrahan broke through the middle and he fed Earls for a smart finish past the covering Ludovico Nitoglia.
Treviso felt Hanrahan's pass had gone forward but television match official Dermot Moloney and referee Leighton Hodges ruled otherwise, and Hanrahan converted for a four-point advantage.
A second missed penalty from Berquist added to the Italians' frustration and Munster restarted with the bit between their teeth, winger Murphy just being held up after a frantic spell of attacking.
Munster also upped the ante in the scrum, winning a series of penalties in the Treviso 22, and the pressure told when repeated early pushing led to Maistri being yellow carded.
Back-pedalling Treviso somehow won a relieving penalty at the next scrum and then Earls knocked on as Laulala attempted to put him over in the right corner.
But the hosts moved 14-3 clear when Hanrahan passed for big centre Downey to duck under Christian Loamanu's challenge and score by the left corner flag. The increasingly influential Hanrahan then nailed his most difficult kick of the night from the touchline.
Treviso blundered in their attempts to respond as Michele Campagnaro knocked on in a promising position and Berquist's touchfinder from a penalty went out on the full.
Munster were relatively untroubled as they saw out the win, with head coach Penney already stoking the fires for next Saturday's interprovincial showdown by suggesting it is Munster against 'the Six Nations champs' - given the number of Leinster players selected by Joe Schmidt during Ireland's successful campaign.