Bonus-point win a just reward after gruelling day at the office for Munster
Munster 32-7 Treviso
It's as well all involved here yesterday were being well paid, for otherwise you could have excused them had they headed back into the changing room half-way through the warm-up. And stayed there. At a miserable Thomond Park, a crowd of 12,348 watched the rain come in virtually horizontal for a fair while before referee Matthew Carley got the game going. Thereafter it was intermittent, and horrible.
Its impact on Munster's ambition was inescapable. When you're up against a team who are winless in the Pro12, and whose European history reads just five wins from their last 10 European campaigns, you want to take a winning bonus point. That's what Stade Francais and Tigers will likely do when they get them in Paris and Leicester respectively. So you didn't want a night like this, yet Munster were patient - and got there, deservedly, with a couple of minutes to spare.
They go to Paris next Sunday to take on a Stade Francais side who showed enough in Welford Road on Friday night to suggest they'll be difficult to deal with then they're switched on. It remains to be seen if they have Mike Sherry for that spin. The hooker has been plagued by injury, and the latest is knee damage.
He would have enjoyed a decent run for this was a game for forwards. Captain CJ Stander got man of the match - full back Andrew Conway was also outstanding - but his back row partners, Dave O'Callaghan and Jack O'Donoghue, also carried well. Ireland tour South Africa next summer, and while lots of folks are talking about Stander making that trip as an Ireland player, O'Donoghue is already a contender for that squad. He is a terrific prospect.
As indeed is Sherry's replacement, Duncan Casey, who contributed well to a nearly 90 per cent return out of touch. Worryingly, Munster finished with 14 men after Casey went off with a pectoral injury, and according to coach Anthony Foley it will be 48 hours before they have a handle on who will be fit for Paris.
In the circumstances, if you didn't have a set-piece you didn't have squat. And Munster did. They were able to go to it when in trouble, and moreover their overall discipline was first class, giving away only four penalties over the 80 minutes.
"Conditions wee unbelievable out there," Foley said aftewards. "It was very difficult for both teams. I thought it was the best we've played in those conditions. The way we controlled the ball in the first half especially. It was well marshalled by nine and 10 and it was a hefty workload for the pack."
In the circumstances, Munster badly needed a good start. And a converted try inside five minutes from BJ Botha - into the powerful wind coming from the Mayorstone end - ticked that box.
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Quickly the game developed into a set-piece battle. By the end of the first 40 Munster were 10-7 ahead; by the end of the second half that lead was a 25-point margin. Having enjoyed nearly 75 per cent of possession in the first half you might have expected Munster to have come away with more than 10 points from that period, but to have had their noses in front at all was a reasonable return. They might have had two tries inside nine minutes when Botha lost control of the ball in a drive over the line, picked up by the TMO.
Still, the pressure and the energy from the Munster pack must have been encouraging for Anthony Foley. Less so was the concession of a try to Braam Steyn on 17 minutes which tied the game 7-7 when Jayden Hayward converted it. Initially it looked like an exit play going to plan: perfect lineout take and feed to Ian Keatley, but either the outhalf took a fraction of second too long in getting rid of it or the Treviso number eight is 100m sprint material. Either way, he got a block on Keatley and then did really well to touch down just before the dead-ball line.
Fortunately for Keatley he got the opportunity to limit the damage almost from the kick-off when Munster picked up a penalty off a scrum, and he took three points into the teeth of the wind. He did did very well to control it after the break.
It was Stander on 56 minutes who gave them enough daylight to be fairly sure about winning the game. Keatley had given them the perfect start to the half with a penalty, and then the captain got over from close range to put them 18-7 ahead.
The bonus point came into view on the hour mark after Casey got over. It was his perfect throw to Donnacha Ryan that set up the platform, and his tail-end steering that finished it. The binning of replacement Matteo Muccignat on 74 minutes teed Munster up for that bonus. And it came through Simon Zebo just two minutes later.
Scorers: Munster - Botha, Stander, Casey, Zebo tries; Keatley 2 pens, 3 con. Treviso - Steyn try; Hayward con.
Munster: A Conway; K Earls, F Saili, D Hurley, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 50), M Sherry (D Casey 29-76, not replaced), BJ Botha, D Ryan, M Chisholm (D Foley 51), D O'Callaghan (R Copeland 61), CJ Stander (capt), J O'Donoghue
Treviso: L McLean; L Nigolia (C Smylie 61), J Hayward, E Bachin, T Iannone; J Ambrosini, E Gori; M Zanusso (M Muccignat 72; yc 74), O Gega (D Giazzon ht), R Harden, RD Naude, JF Montauriol, F Minto, B Steyn, A Zanni (capt)(M Barbini 29)
Referee: M Carley (England)
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