Friday 15 November 2019

Sluggish Munster miss chance to raise stakes

Munster 14 Treviso 3

Keith Earls, Munster, scores his side's first try
Keith Earls, Munster, scores his side's first try
Sean Dougall, Munster, is tackled by Manoa Vosawai, Benetton Treviso
James Downey, Munster, on his way to scoring his side's second try despite the efforts of Christian Loamanu, Benetton Treviso

Munster kept the pressure on Leinster at the top of the RaboDirect Pro12 with a return to winning ways but they could yet rue not getting a bonus point against the lowly Italians, who had defeated them earlier in the season.

Indeed, both Leinster and Munster will go into next week's top-of-the-table clash at the Aviva Stadium on the back on poor displays against Italian opposition.

But Munster, unlike their arch-rivals, were unable to carve out the extra point – they never looked like doing it, although their record as the only side with a perfect home record in this season's competition was never under threat.

Munster, who had never lost at home to Italian opposition, struggled to impose themselves in the opening half but they managed to hit the front just before the break to lead 7-3.

JJ Hanrahan, the league's top place-kicker with a 92 per cent return going into the match, missed two good penalty opportunities, both times pulling his kicks wide.

Felix Jones did most to get Munster moving but sloppy handling and other basic errors made it difficult to build the phases. Indeed, they would have been behind had former Leinster out-half Mat Berquist been more accurate off the tee. He landed his first kick after three minutes to give the visitors an early tonic but missed two other efforts after Treviso had buils several phases.

Munster, who opted not to risk Ireland captain Paul O'Connell because of a shoulder niggle, also lost tighthead John Ryan in the early stages.

But they managed to hit the front three minutes from the break when the TMO ruled in their favour after it seemed that Hanrahan's pass to Keith Earls was forward.

Earls sauntered over for his third try of the campaign to mark his return from injury and Hanrahan, who had created the opportunity with a great break, added the extras for a 7-3 interval lead.

Munster laid out their intention directly after the restart with Hanrahan opting for the corner with a penalty from just outside the '22', but four penalties and five scrums later, and even with Treviso having a man binned, they couldn't get over and were themselves penalised.

But Munster maintained the pressure and were rewarded with Hanrahan sending James Downey, who celebrates his 33rd birthday today, over in the left corner; Hanrahan added the extras from the touchline to make it 14-3.

The task then was to get the other two tries and match Leinster's return against Zebre on Friday night and keep the pressure on them ahead of next Saturday's showdown in Dublin.

But that never looked like happening. The error count continue to rise and they were just unable to turn possession into opportunities.

At one stage going into the final ten minutes Munster enjoyed a possession stat of 82 per cent, but forays into the red zone were limited.

Munster introduced new hooker Quentin MacDonald for the final five minutes on a night when could yet rue not gaining a bonus point – but their performance scarcely deserved it.

Scorers – Munster: K Earls, J Downey try each, JJ Hanrahan 2 cons. Treviso: M Berquist pen.

Munster: F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala (S Zebo 60), J Downey, J Murphy; JJ Hanrahan (I Keatley 65), D Williams (G Hurley 75); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 57), D Varley (Q MacDonald 75), J Ryan (S Archer 8); D Foley, B Holland (D O'Callaghan 57); D Ryan, S Dougall (CJ Stander 67), P Butler.

Treviso: A Esposito (L McLean 64); C Loamanu, M Campagnaro, A Sgarbi, L Nitoglia; M Berquist, E Gori (T Botes 53); A de Marchi (M Muccignat 61), G Maistri (L Ghiraldini 60), L Cittadini (I Fernandez-Rouyet 73); A Pavanello (M Fuser 53), V Bernabo (C Van Zyl 53); M Vosawai, M Filippucci, R Barbieri.

Referee: L Hodges (WRU).

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