Tuesday 20 August 2019

Wootton sends timely message to Van Graan

Zebre 19 Munster 36

Munster’s Calvin Nash is congratulated by Jack Stafford after scoring a try against Zebre. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster’s Calvin Nash is congratulated by Jack Stafford after scoring a try against Zebre. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

New starts are all about new opportunities and Alex Wootton sent out a timely message to new boss Johann van Graan that he could be the man to replace the injured Keith Earls in the key Champions Cup clashes against Leicester Tigers next month.

The 23-year old took his Guinness PRO14 haul to seven this season with a double strike after the break which sealed the bonus-point win, and now the Macclesfield-born winger could be poised for his Champions Cup debut the weekend after next.

Johann Van Graan has plenty to digest. Photo: Sportsfile
Johann Van Graan has plenty to digest. Photo: Sportsfile

Wootton was one of the players name-checked by Rassie Erasmus prior to his departure as one to watch out for, and he did his chances no harm yesterday in Parma.

But the win wasn't without its concerns, and Simon Zebo could be a doubt for those key matches against the Tigers after limping off late in the game with a knee injury.

Forwards coach Jerry Flannery said he is confident that Zebo, dropped from the Ireland squad after announcing his summer departure to Racing 92, will recover in time.

"I think he jarred his knee," said Flannery. "They are assessing it but it seems okay.

Alex Wootton of Munster is tackled by Giulio Bisegni of Zebre. Photo: Sportsfile
Alex Wootton of Munster is tackled by Giulio Bisegni of Zebre. Photo: Sportsfile

"We were nervous for a few seconds when it happened. But he walked off the field and he was walking along the sideline perfectly."

Flannery took the reins along with backs coach Felix Jones - new boss Johann van Graan kept a watching brief in Italy as they carved out a bonus-point win.

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But Van Graan will be unhappy with Munster's poor discipline in the opening half which saw a 17-0 lead whittled down with a double sin-binning.

First Robin Copeland and then the impressive Sam Arnold paid the price as Scottish referee Lloyd Linton lost his patience with Munster's persistent fouling.

Michael Bradley's Zebre, with a few decent scalps already this season, made Munster pay, with centre Giulio Bisegni darting over after Galway native Ciaran Gaffney, revelling in Italy after being let go by Connacht, was stopped just short.

Zebre captain Jacopo Sarto got their second before the break, with scrum-half Guglilemo Palazzani converting both to leave just three between the sides at the interval.

But Munster resumed control once they were restored to 15 and the game and the bonus point were sealed by the 57th minute when Wootton crossed for a brace of tries to take his haul to seven in the competition this season.

Superb

He got the first in the right corner after good pressure, and then Zebo set him up for the bonus point with a superb wide pass.

Zebre gave themselves a chance of a couple of bonus points when winger Giovanbattista Venditti scored 13 minutes from time after some good pressure.

But that was as near as they got and a good day for Munster was sealed when Calvin Nash, one of four academy players in the match-day 23, scored his first try for the province at the death, with JJ Hanrahan converting on a day when he recovered from missing two early penalties to post a return of five kicks from seven.

"Johann contributed during the week and he contributed on game-day as well. But for him it's getting to see how things are run and adding his own opinions on it as well," added Flannery.

"Hopefully we can build on this. We will see what shape the lads are in when they come back from national camp. A few of them will probably need a bit of time off.

"That's why it's great to have the likes of Darren O'Shea putting his hands up, same for Sam Arnold and Liam O'Connor.

"And to get Jack Stafford in as well it was great."

Flannery added that van Graan had settled in well and is ready to take the reins from next week, and that this was a good way to get the ball rolling.

Zebre - C Gaffney; P Bruno, G Bisegni, F Afamasaga, G Venditti (G D'Onofrio 73); M Azzolini, G Palazzani; C Ah-Nau (A De Marchi 62), L Luus (O Fabiani 41), E Bello; J Tucker (D Fragnito 62), L Krumov; J Sarto, J Meyer, D Minnie (M Mbanda 43).

Munster - S Zebo (B Johnston 76); D Sweetnam, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton (C Nash 67); JJ Hanrahan, J Hart (J Stafford 76); L O'Connor (Scott 67), R Marshall (K O'Byrne 63), S Archer (B Scott 21-27); J Kleyn, B Holland (D O'Shea 63); J O'Donoghue, C Cloete, R Copeland.

Ref - L Linton (Scotland)

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