Sloppy Reds rally to outmuscle Zebre
Munster 31 Zebre 12
Munster had to dig deep to stave off a shock loss to Zebre at Thomond Park. Zebre were well worth their 12-5 interval lead against a misfiring Munster side who struggled to get into the game and were guilty of basic errors against a side they had beaten in all 13 previous encounters.
Michael Bradley knew Zebre needed to make a mark early as they tried to end a ten-match losing run in the PRO14 going back to last October.
They were boosted by the return of nine Italian internationals from the Six Nations squad and with a good mauling game in operation, they opened up a 12-0 lead by the end of the opening quarter.
Former Northampton winger James Elliott got over in the left corner after ten minutes after they created a good overlap when recycling after outhalf Carlo Canna was stopped on the right.
Sloppy handling by Mike Haley gifted Zebre their second try after 19 minutes when he spilled a grubber by Canna, and tighthead prop Roberto Tenga took full advantage to score from close range. Canna converted but then missed two penalties in the run to the interval and Munster punished them when they crossed in the final play of the half.
A penalty to the left corner was taken by Darren O'Shea and they got the drive for loosehead Jeremy Loughman to score his first Munster try, but JJ Hanrahan was unable to land the touchline conversion. Johann van Graan started emptying his heavyweight Munster bench in the third quarter as Tyler Bleyendaal, Jean Kleyn and Irish internationals Niall Scannell and John Ryan were drafted in to rescue the situation.
Munster were again rewarded for going to the left corner with a penalty, with Jack O'Donoghue taking the lineout and then hooker Rhys Marshall getting the touchdown after another good drive.
Bleyendaal tied up the game at 12-12 with a superb conversion and despite losing Chris Cloete to a yellow card, they pushed on for victory.
Good hands across the backline put Darren Sweetnam in for the lead score after 65 minutes, and four minutes later they sealed the bonus point from another lineout drive, with Niall Scannell scoring before Mike Haley got their fifth at the death.
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