Benetton 16 Munster 18
MUNSTER stole victory from the jaws of defeat through a brilliant drop goal with the last kick of the game from replacement outhalf JJ Hanrahan to break Benetton's hearts.
Munster had led 0-12 as early as the ninth minute but produced an insipid display for the remaining 70 minutes. And it looked like Leanardo Sarto’s late try had secured Benetton’s first win of the season until Munster engineered an unlikely final opportunity for Hanrahan.
It was a much-changed Munster line-up, with only full-back Mike Haley and number eight Gavin Coombes, and late call-up Stephen Archer, retained from the starting 15 that lost 10-13 to Leinster last weekend.
Munster were quickly up and running with a fortunate try in the left corner for Darren Sweetnam in the second minute. It came from a speculative chip through by Haley, and when the covering Benetton player allowed it to bounce, the ball ricocheted off of his shins onto the corner flag, before bouncing back into the end-goal area to allow Sweetnam to dive on it for the early score.
The second try of the night came in the ninth minute, and it was a wonderful effort. Liam Coombes plucked a speculative looping pace from the Italian side in the air, and when tackled immediately offloaded to Rory Scannell, who himself was immediately tackled and released to the supporting scrum-half Nick McCarthy.
McCarthy was hauled down just short of the try line but was able to pop a lovely pass to the onrushing Niall Scannell who was able to complete the excellent score.
The 23rd-minute sin-binning of tighthead prop Marco Riccioni seemed to signal an opportunity for Munster to put the game to bed early, but to their credit the Italian side responded extremely well to the setback, scoring a well-worked team try in the right corner, through winger Angelo Esposito in the 25th minute.
A 33rd-minute penalty by out-half Tommaso Allan ensured that Benetton won the sin bin period 8-0, as Munster’s control of the game visibly slipped, while Benetton’s confidence levels visibly increased, and particularly so with each impressive jackal from captain Marco Barbini.
Right on half-time Munster were guilty of a really poor exit from a scrum on their own 22, with them coughing up a cheap penalty by getting a ball carrier isolated, and Allan was able to convert the penalty to leave the score at 11-12 at half time.
Any hope that the half time break would see an upsurge in Munster’s performance levels soon dissipated, with Haley throwing a simple-looking pass to Sweetnam straight over his head and out of play in the 45th minute being a microcosm of Munster’s sloppiness.
However, in the 54th minute Munster worked a good field position and earned a penalty on the Benetton 22, which Ben Healy duly dispatched, in what was their first score in 45 minutes.
Munster head coach Johann van Graan was forced to bring on the experience of JJ Hanrahan and Damian de Allende to try and get Munster over the line, but it was the home side, without a win to their name all season, who were playing all the rugby.
Benetton looked like they were certain to score, and take the lead when left winger Tommaso Benvenuti crashed into Mike Haley on the Munster try line, but somehow the Munster full-back got himself under the big Italian winger, to prevent the touchdown, in a try-saving tackle.
It was only a temporary let-off, however, as from the resultant scrum Benetton ran the ball through the line to the other wing, with Jayden Hayward putting Leonardo Sarto away in the corner, for a deserved score in the 71st minute.
Allan (2 pens), Esposito and Sarto (1 try each).
Healy (1 pen, 1 con), Hanrahan (1 drop), Sweetnam and N. Scannell (1 try each).
Hayward; Esposito, Riera, Brex, Benvenuti; Allan, Braley; Gallo, Baravalle, Riccioni; Herbst, Ruzza; Barbini (c), Zuliani, Halafihi.
Pasquali for Zuliani (29), Zuliani for Pasquali (33), Els, Snyman and Pettinelli for Baravalle, Herbst and Halafihi (51), Quaglio for Gallo (54), Petrozzi for Braley (58), Sarto and Pasquale for Esposito and Riccioni (61), Sgarbi for Zuliani (70).
Haley; L. Coombes, Goggin, R. Scannell, Sweetnam; Healy, McCarthy; J. Wycherley, N. Scannell, Archer; F. Wycherley, Holland (c); O’Donoghue, Cloete, G. Coombes.
O’Donnell for Coombes (45, HIA), Loughman for J. Wycherley (51), O’Byrne, Ryan and Hanrahan for N. Scannell, Archer and Healy (58), de Allende for Sweetnam (59), Ahern for F. Wycherley (69).
Andrea Piardi (Italy).