JJ Hanrahan the hero for Munster as Dewaldt Duvenage petulance costs Benetton dearly
Munster 15 Benetton 13
JJ Hanrahan stepped up to deliver a booming 50m winner to save Munster’s blushes and rescue their season as they edged past Treviso to set up a mouth-watering Guinness PRO14 semi-final against Leinster at the RDS in two weeks’ time.
That game should capture the public imagination after this quarter-final attracted a crowd of just 10,042 to Thomond Park and the home team struggled to rise to the occasion until their replacement out-half delivered a moment to savour two minutes from time.
After a mammoth effort, a moment of ill-discipline cost the Italians dear on their first play-off appearance as scrum-half Dewaldt Duvenage threw the ball away needlessly after Nigel Owens had awarded a penalty, moving to the half-way line and into Hanrahan’s range.
The Kerryman made no mistake.
On their first play-off appearance it was no surprise that they gave everything to their cause, producing a mammoth defensive first-half effort that saw them take a 10-3 lead in at half-time. But they couldn’t quite hold on.
The home side would acknowledge their opponents’ efforts, but they will also be concerned at their own inability to break down the Treviso defence.
Much of the public discourse in the build-up to the game was spent reflecting on Munster’s need for an attack coach and the prospective candidates got a good indication of the job at hand.
It goes without saying they will need to be a lot better to beat the Champions Cup finalists on their home patch.
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Despite owning the ball and spending most of the half in Treviso territory, the home team huffed and puffed and couldn’t break down the Italian wall before the break.
Chris Cloete and Darren Sweetnam were the brightest sparks in red and they were both involved in a close call when the South African peeled off a struggling maul, Dave Kilcoyne made a big carry and Murray swept the ball wide for his winger who took Mike Haley’s poor pass and used his foot-work to get to the line only for the scrambling defence to recover and hold Chris Farrell up on the line.
From the scrum, Munster worked a move that saw CJ Stander carry hard but the second act failed as Tadhg Beirne couldn’t hold Murray’s pass.
Bleyendaal did open the scoring after Luca Bigi played Murray at a ruck, but having worked so hard to get a lead they coughed up the kick-off and Peter O’Mahony committed a ruck offence to give Tommaso Allan the chance to level.
He obliged and his side drew confidence from the score and finished the half stronger.
Their scrum forced a penalty to get them out of a sticky spot, before tighthead Marco Riccioni forced an important turnover penalty when Stander took contact 5m out.
The visitors knew they wouldn’t get many opportunities, but they took their one big chance on the stroke of half-time to take a 10-3 lead in at the break.
A quick throw in and good work from winger Monty Ioane carried them into the ’22 and, after a couple of close-in carries, Allan swept it wide to Fijian Ratuva Tavuyara who rode Mike Haley’s tackle with wonderful athleticism to touch down one handed.
Allan’s conversion gave Munster a seven point deficit to chase and they narrowed the margin within three minutes as O’Mahony picked off a Bigi throw and Sebastien Negri went off his feet, allowing Bleyendaal to make it 10-6.
But Treviso refused to lie down and were a whisker away from a key second try when Tito Tebaldi started a cracking piece of counter-attacking play, finding Bigi on his shoulder and he fed Ioane. The winger made big yards before finding Jayden Hayward on his shoulder and when he was caught by Rory Scannell he tried to find Steyn who couldn’t quite hold the pass.
Johann van Graan reacted by sending JJ Hanrahan into the fray, but first act was a despairing tackle on Tavuyara who brilliantly left both Scannells and Haley for dead but couldn’t stick his pass to Toa Halafihi who was in if he held on.
Munster were finding the going tougher and, even when they did kick themselves into an attacking position in the Treviso ’22, Federico Ruzza got up ahead of O’Mahony to pick off Niall Scannell’s throw.
Allan and Hanrahan exchanged penalties as the game entered the final quarter with four points between the teams, before the Munster out-half narrowed the gap to one when Treviso went off their feet after a fine Stander carry.
They were forced to defend through 14 phases in their own ’22 before Andrew Conway forced Tavuyara into touch, before they survived another 15 until John Ryan stepped in and made a big turnover after Dan Goggin did well to deny the powerful Fijian.
Munster hung on in and when Stander won a ruck penalty on their own 10m line and Duvenage petulantly threw the ball away, Owens moved the spot to the half-way line.
Immediately Hanrahan demanded the kicking tee. As soon as he struck the ball, you knew why.
Still, they had defending to do but drop-goal attempts from Antonio Rizzi and Hayward missed the target and Munster escaped.
MUNSTER – M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell (D Goggin 69), D Sweetnam; T Bleyendaal (JJ Hanrahan 48), C Murray (A Mathewson 67); D Kilcoyne (L O’Connor 73), N Scannell (K O’Byrne 73), S Archer (J Ryan 51); J Kleyn, T Beirne (B Holland 48); P O’Mahony (capt), C Cloete (A Botha 63), CJ Stander.
BENETTON – J Hayward; R Tavuyara, M Zanon (A Scarbi 67), L Morisi, M Ioane; T Allan (capt) (A Rizzi 79), D Duvenage (T Tebaldi 42-48, 79); N Quaglio (D Appiah 48), L Bigi (H Faiva 48), M Riccioni (T Pasquali 63); M Lazzaroni (I Herbst 51), F Ruzza; S Negri (D Budd 51), A Steyn, T Halafihi.
Ref: N Owens (Wales)