MUNSTER cut Leinster’s lead at the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 to two points ahead of next Saturday’s crunch top-of-the-table clash with a hard fought 14-3 victory over Treviso at Thomond Park.
Winger Keith Earls marked his return to the Munster side by dotting down in the 37th minute as Rob Penney’s men led 7-3 at the end of a forgettable first half. The TMO allowed the try to stand after ruling that Ian Keatley’s pass to Earls to set up the try was flat.
Earls was making his first appearance for Munster since January.
Munster will hope their failure to pick up a try bonus point against the Italians, albeit on a wet and windy night, doesn’t ultimately cost the province a home fixture in the top four play-offs.
The performances of Johne Murphy and man-of-the-match Felix Jones stood out in a dour encounter that was decided by James Downey’s second successive try for the province.
Downey scored while Treviso hooker Giovanni Maistri was in the sin-bin and a heavy rain shower spoiled any hope of further tries in the final quarter.
Munster lined out without the selected Paul O’Connell who was forced to cry off on Saturday morning due to a slight shoulder niggle. O’Connell will be available to play in Munster’s crunch PRO12 clash with arch rivals Leinster at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday next, 7pm.
Second-placed Munster trail leaders Leinster by two points and enjoy a three-point advantage over third-placed Ulster with five rounds of games to go.
MUNSTER - Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Johne Murphy; JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Damien Varley (capt), John Ryan, Billy Holland, Dave Foley, Donnacha Ryan, Sean Dougall, Paddy Butler. Replacements used: Quentin MacDonald, David Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, Gerry Hurley, Ian Keatley, Simon Zebo.
BENETTON TREVISO - Angelo Esposito; Christian Loamanu, Michele Campagnaro, Alberto Sgarbi, Ludovico Nitoglia; Mat Berquist, Edoardo Gori; Alberto de Marchi, Giovanni Maistri, Lorenzo Cittadini, Antonio Pavanello (capt), Valerio Bernabò, Manoa Vosawai, Marco Filippucci, Robert Barbieri. Replacements: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Matteo Muccignat, Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet, Marco Fuser, Corniel van Zyl, Luke McLean, Tobie Botes, James Ambrosini.
REFEREE - Leighton Hodges (Wales)