Paul O'Connell didn't play, but he still stole the show in Munster
Munster 30 Treviso 19
Published 27/04/2015 | 02:30
A strange week which started with Paul O'Connell being linked with a move to Toulon ended with a bonus-point win in the bag on a day when Munster supporters queued on the steps of the stand at Irish Independent Park in Cork to greet the great Limerick man.
O'Connell sat out this clash with Treviso with a shoulder injury but notions of a quiet Saturday afternoon for the Irish captain never looked likely.
His arrival in the stand at the outset of the game was greeted with rapturous applause and the shrill of the half-time whistle was merely the cue for Munster supporters to head on a meet-and-greet mission.
Men with kids, women with and without children, formed a lengthy queue up the steps of the stand as O'Connell signed autographs and posed for endless photos while Irish forwards coach Simon Easterby anonymously sat beside him.
It took the intervention of the tannoy man to get people back to their seats when the second half started. You could only imagine the fanfare if O'Connell did decide to leave.
The flurry of activity in the stand was in contrast to the action on it where Munster failed to build on a solid opening half which yielded three tries.
But their excellent pack, which saw Donnacha Ryan complete his first full competitive game in over a year, turned the screw on the Italians and produced a penalty-try 13 minutes from the end to secure the win and the extra point.
"We played a lot better in the first half than the second which is probably down to the fact that we got a lot more ball in that first half," said coach Anthony Foley.
"The second half was quite frustrating in terms of our use of ball but sometimes you have to give them credit, they brought us through phases and frustrated us for a long time.
"But look, we got everything we could out of the game, five points that puts us into the semi-final and the knockout, so that is good in one respect.
"But we did say going into the game that we were going to get a physical contest and we surely got that but we invited a lot of that on ourselves."
They will head to Ulster on Saturday week knowing that they are in control of their own destiny as far as a home semi-final is concerned.
All ten semi-finals have been won by the home side but the five points picked up on Saturday mean that even a loss in Belfast will not prove fatal to their aspirations of hosting that knockout match.
Munster showed great urgency and got on top early on against a Treviso side who may be second from bottom but who have everything to play for in their battle for the Italian Champions Cup spot.
They made a better return from possession than Munster, leaving Cork without a point but with three tries chalked up. That didn't seem likely in the opening exchanges with Conor Murray and Ian Keatley dictating matters behind the scrum and Rory Scannell again enhancing his growing reputation in the centre.
Simon Zebo and CJ Stander both crossed for their eighth tries of this season's league campaign as Munster surged ahead, but Foley was understandably concerned that they did not go for the jugular.
"We had them on the rack at 13-0 up and gave away a soft penalty when they were going backwards.
"From that they got another couple of penalties to get two goes at a maul against us and we didn't manage to hold it out which is something we needed to fix," added Foley after big No 8 Mathew Luamanu scored for the Italians. Tommy O'Donnell marked his 100th appearance for Munster with a try before the break after a good pop pass from Murray to lead 20-7 at half time but they were rocked two minutes after the restart when sleepy defending was punished when Andrea Pratichetti raced through to score.
Keatley steadied Munster with a penalty before their superior pack finally yielded the bonus point 13 minutes from the end when they were awarded a penalty-try, but there was still time for Simone Ragusi to grab a third try for the visitors.
"We got everything we could out of the game, five points that puts us into the semi-final and the knockout," added Foley, who should have O'Connell back for the trip to Belfast.
Munster - F Jones (R O'Mahony 52); K Earls, A Smith, R Scannell, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray (D Williams 71); D Kilcoyne (J Ryan 71), D Casey (E Guinazu 56), S Archer (BJ Botha 53); B Holland (Donncha O'Callaghan 71), D Ryan; P O'Mahony (Dave O'Callaghan 71), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander.
Treviso - J Hayward; S Ragusi (J Ambrosini 78, 5), L Morisi, A Pratichetti, L Nitoglia; S Christie, E Gori; M Zanusso (J Novak 67), D Giazzon (A Anae 61), R Harden (R Acosta 61); M Fuser (M Lazzaroni 58), C Van Zyl (M Swanepoel 71); P Derbyshire, F Minto, M Luamanu (N Cattini 77).
ref - B Whitehouse (WRU)