Conor Murray feeds the scrum on his comeback from long-term injury during Sunday's Guinness PRO14 win over Zebre in Parma
MUNSTER scored a crucial 32-7 bonus point win over Zebre in the Guinness PRO14 in Parma on Sunday as long-term injury victims Conor Murray and Chris Farrell made a welcome return to action.
Irish internationals Murray and Farrell played the closing 30 minutes of the game as Munster bagged two tries inside the last four minutes through winger Ronan O’Mahony and centre Rory Scannell late on to seal only their second away win of the campaign.at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
The return of Murray and Farrell, along with that of their South African centre Jaco Taute and taleneted flanker Conor Oliver, is a big boost for Munster ahead of their back-to-back Champions Cup pool fixtures with French champions Castres Olympique next month.
Murray had not played for Munster since the end of last season due to a neck injury, which came to the fore in the wake of Ireland's summer tour to Australia, while Farrell has been sidelined with a knee injury since last February.
Having led 17-0 at half-time, Munster struggled to impose themselves for long stages of a scrappy second half played out in heavy underfoot conditions before finally closing out their 13th PRO14 win over their Italian opponents.
Zebre had lost only one of their last seven home games in all tournaments prior to kick-off.
Munster were dealt a blow shortly before kick-off as out-half JJ Hanrahan was forced out of the starting team due to illness. Hanrahan’s place went to Bill Johnston, with Jaco Taute coming onto the replacements’ bench.
Gavin Coombes showed great footwork and produced an excellent offload before finding Alex Wootton close to the left touchline. However, Wootton was judged to have lost control of the ball as he looked to touch down.
The referee was playing penalty advantage and from the resultant line-out, 21-year-old second-row Fineen Wycherley dotted down from close range. Out-half Johnston converted for a 7-0 lead on 17 minutes.
Munster added a second try on the half hour mark when scrum-half Cronin cleverly found Haley who put hooker Kevin O’Byrne over in the left corner.
Johnston landed a superb touchline conversion for a 14-0 lead.
The exciting young Garryowen out-half landed a superb penalty goal from just inside the Zebre half after the home side was harshly penalised for off-side on the stroke of half-time.
Having looked a good bet to pick up a try bonus point in the second half, Munster lost their grip on the game in a scrappy third quarter played in difficult underfoot conditions.
Zebre spotted their opportunity and Renato Giammarioli croseed for a 64th minute try which Francois Brummer converted. Suddenly the score was 17-7 and it was a case of game very much back on again.
Munster did regain the initiative soon after and centre Rory Scannell landed a 69th minute penalty to help the visitors into a useful 20-7 lead.
The visitors took a decisive grip on the game when the opportunist Ronan O’Mahony dotted down in the 75th minute after pouncing on Bleyendaal’s neat grubber kick after the Zebre defence was caught napping.
Munster secured the maximum five-point haul when Murray found Scanell close to the right touchline with a terrific skip pass and the centre powered over from close range.
SCORERS: Zebre: Renato Giammarioli try, Francois Brummer con. Munster: Fineen Wycherley, Kevin O’Byrne, Ronan O’Mahony try, Bill Johnston two cons, pen, Rory Scannell try, pen, two cons.
ZEBRE: Gabriele Di Giulio, Paula Balekana, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Boni, Jamie Elliott, Francois Brummer, Riccardo Raffaele, Cruze Ah-Nau, Massimo Ceciliani, Dario Chistolini, Leonard Krumov, David Sisi, Jimmy Tuivati, Maxime Mbanda, Giovanni Licata. Replacements: Eduardo Bello for Chistolini (HIA 14-24 mins and 53 mins), Renato Giammarioli for Tuivati (injured, 25 mins), Carlo Canna for Di Giulio (injured., 32 mins), Josh Renton for Raffaele (33 mins), George Biagi for Mbanda (half-time), Oliviero Fabiani for Ah-Nau, Daniele Rimpelli for Cecillani (both 53 mins), Massimo Cecillani for Rimpelli (57 mins).
MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Ronan O'Mahony, Rory Scannell, Tyler Bleyendaal (capt), Alex Wootton; Bill Johnston, Neil Cronin; Jeremy Loughman, Kevin O'Byrne, Stephen Archer, Fineen Wycherley, Darren O'Shea, Gavin Coombes, Chris Cloete, Arno Botha. Replacements: Chris Farrell for Johnston, Conor Murray for Cronin (both 51 mins), Ciaran Parker for Archer (55 mins), Conor Oliver for Cloete (59 mins), Sean O’Connor for O’Shea (65 mins), Stephen Archer for Parker (65 mins), Brian Scott for Loughman (70 mins), Mike Sherry for O’Byrne (70 mins), Jaco Taute for Wootton (72 mins), Ciaran Parker for Archer (77 mins).
REFEREE: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)