Understrength Munster come from 11 points down to secure bonus-point win over Benetton
Benetton Rugby 28 Munster 37
Munster came from eleven points down in the third quarter to score a bonus point win at Stadio Monigo to head into their Heineken Champions Cup showdown with Saracens on a high.
Their understrength side came good when it mattered most to dent Benetton’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the PRO14 for the first time.
Benetton deservedly led 21-17 at the end of an opening half where the lead changed hands five times in a cracking contest in front of a capacity home crowd of 7,000.
The vast array of skills produced by Fijian winger Ratuva Tavuyara set the tone for the open style of rugby which has typified Benetton this season and his early work was a big factor as they raced into a 10-0 lead after just eight minutes with Italian centre Tommaso Benvenuti getting in for the opening try.
An understrength Munster side did not panic and hit back almost with Rhys Marshall getting over for a try after they went to the right corner with a penalty.
Six minutes later Munster hit the front for the first time. A big hit by Sam Arnold in midfield created the turnover and while the bounce of the ball denied Darren Sweetnam, an alert Dan Goggin intercepted Jayden Hayward’s pass to score.
JJ Hanrahan converted both tries to lead 14-10 but two penalties from Tommaso Allan edged the Italians back in front before a penalty from Hanrahan restored Munster’s lead after 26 minutes.
Sam Arnold produced a superb tackle to deny Tavuyara after another brilliant break ten minutes from the interval.
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However, Benetton pressure yielded a second try of the half for them when a break from Hayward set up winger Monty Ioane for a fine score to lead 21-17 at the interval.
Benetton laid siege for four minutes after the restart and were rewarded with a penalty try after Darren Sweetnam deliberately knocked-on, earning a yellow card in the process as the Italians pushed 28-17 clear.
Again Munster didn’t panic and two penalties from Hanrahan cut the gap to 28-23 going into the final quarter, with Benvenuti picking up a yellow card for a high hit on Stephen Archer.
Munster drew level when Goggin put Shane Daly over for his first Muster try after 61 minutes, with Hanrahan edging them 30-28 in front with his sixth successful kick of the night from the left touchline.
Then he combined with Alby Mathewson for the scrum-half to race through for the bonus point try before Hanrahan pushed the lead out to 37-28 and Munster were never troubled after that.
Scorers – Benetton Rugby: T Benvenuti, M Ioane tries, Penalty try; T Allen con, Penalty try con; T Allen 3 pens. Munster: R Marshall, D Goggin, S Daly, A Mathewson tries; JJ Hanrahan 4 cons; JJ Hanrahan 3 pens.
Benetton Rugby: J Hayward; R Tavuyara, T Benvenuti (A Rizzi 69), M Zanon, M Ioane; T Allan, D Duvenage (T Tebaldi 62); N Quaglio (C Traore 51), L Bigi (H Faiva 51), M Riccioni (S Ferrari 51); I Herbst (M Lazzaroni 56), F Ruzza; G Pettinelli (M Barbini 58), A Steyn, T Halafihi.
Munster: M Haley; D Sweetnam, S Arnold (A McHenry 78), D Goggin, S Daly; JJ Hanrahan (B Johnston 78), A Mathewson (N Cronin 72); J Loughman (L O’Connor 62), R Marshall (K O’Byrne 62), S Archer (C Parker 52); F Wycherley (D O’Shea 62), B Holland; J O’Donoghue, C Cloete, G Coombes (D O’Callaghan 62).
Ref – Ben Whitehouse (Wales).