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Treble for Zebo ends Munster's home losing streak

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Simon Zebo, Munster, goes over to score his side's first try despite the efforts of Giulio Toniolatti, Zebre

Simon Zebo, Munster, goes over to score his side's first try despite the efforts of Giulio Toniolatti, Zebre

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Johne Murphy, Munster, gets away from Kelly Haimona and Alberto Chillon, Zebre

Johne Murphy, Munster, gets away from Kelly Haimona and Alberto Chillon, Zebre

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Paul O'Connell, Munster, wins possession in a lineout ahead of Valerio Bernabo, Zebre

Paul O'Connell, Munster, wins possession in a lineout ahead of Valerio Bernabo, Zebre

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Simon Zebo, Munster, goes over to score his side's first try despite the efforts of Giulio Toniolatti, Zebre

Thomond Park may be some way from being the fortress it once was but on the pitch, Munster at least gave the sparse crowd something to cheer about as they brushed aside a meagre Zebre outfit.

With the game not televised and it being Anthony Foley's second home game in charge of the province, Munster will surely have been hoping for a better turnout than 12,488 (which included season ticket holders not in attendance) but they stopped an unwanted run of three successive home defeats.

The home side were boosted by the return of Lions pair Paul O'Connell and Conor Murray, but it was another Lion who roared as Simon Zebo's hat-trick eased them to a much needed bonus-point home win.

Creative

Munster handed a competitive debut to Johnny Holland but the outhalf's evening was cut short when he was forced off after just 20 minutes with a shoulder injury.

JJ Hanrahan took his place for his first appearance of the season and he added a much-needed creative spark.

It was a game that Munster controlled from start to finish but their constant struggles at set-plays will be a major cause for concern for Foley ahead of a crucial couple of games against Ospreys and Leinster.

It took Munster a quarter of an hour to settle into their stride but once they did, Zebre couldn't live with them as the hosts ran in the first of their five tries.

Billy Holland made the initial carry through the middle before the ball was spun to Andrew Smith. The Australian centre showed great pace and awareness to breeze through two Zebre defenders.

His perfectly weighted pass was collected by Zebo, who still had plenty of work to do, but his pace blitzed David Odiete and got him over in the corner. Holland's touchline conversion dropped inches short.

The home side had their skipper for the evening, Felix Jones, to thank for keeping their lead as the full-back made a brilliant last-ditch tackle on Edoardo Padovani following a sweeping Zebre counter-attack but Munster responded in style.

A booming box-kick was brilliantly collected by Ronan O'Mahony, who made great ground before Zebo was again released down the left wing and he cruised over.

Hanrahan's conversion also dropped short as it came back off the crossbar but he would soon make amends.

Zebre had the chance to reduce the deficit but Kelly Haimona's penalty from inside his own half was off target.

Munster responded well. Tommy O'Donnell, who showed glimpses of a return to form all evening, made a huge carry through the middle, and Hanrahan spotted a gap in the defence and waltzed his way through.

Again, Zebo was the furthest support runner and despite Hanrahan's pass being behind him, he did well to gather the ball and dot down under the posts.

Hanrahan made no mistake with the easy conversion to give Munster a somewhat flattering 17-0 half-time lead.

The bonus point was secured two minutes after the restart as Smith capped an impressive individual display with a try in the corner from a Zebo pass. Hanrahan's conversion from wide on the left struck two posts before finding its way over.

Fractured

As both teams emptied their benches, the game became even more fractured but Hanrahan remained in complete control of proceedings as he pulled all the strings in the Munster backline.

With Ian Keatley to come back into the side, Foley will be left with a decision to make at out-half - after Hanrahan's display last night, he has surely put his hand up for inclusion for a spot in the starting XV.

Substitute Dave Kilcoyne marked his return with a converted try from close range as the floodgates were well and truly opened.

Samuela Vunisa grabbed a consolation try on the stroke of full-time but tougher tests unquestionably lie ahead.

For now, Munster have at least ended their losing home streak with back-to-back victories.

Munster - F Jones (c); R O'Mahony, A Smith, D Hurley (J Murphy 64), S Zebo; J Holland (JJ Hanrahan 20), C Murray (D Williams 64); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 55), D Casey (K O'Byrne 49), BJ Botha (J Ryan 55); B Holland, P O'Connell; P Butler, T O'Donnell (D O'Callaghan 69), R Copeland (J O'Donoghue 58).

Zebre - H Daniller; D Odiete, G Bisegni (M Bergamasco 48), K Haimona, G Toniolatti; E Padovani (G Garcia 58), G Palazzani; A Lovotti, A Manici (O Fabiani 42), L Leibson (D Chistolini 58); Q Geldenhuys (c), G Biagi; M Bergamasco, F Cristiano (V Bernabo h/t), S Vunisa.

REF - I Davies (Wales)

Irish Independent