Hawkeye Sidekick

Guinness Pro 14: Zebre Rugby 19 – 36 Munster Rugby

The van Graan era has started (technically tomorrow) with a bonus point try victory over Michael Bradley’s Zebre Rugby in Parma this afternoon. A mixed bag from Munster and officials on duty. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

The Good

Bright start from Munster Rugby in the first quarter. The pack asserting early dominance. Rhys Marshall nearly scored after superbly intercepting a Zebre wayward attacking pass early doors. Cloete support running also impressive but the New Zealander had a foot in touch.

This ultimately setup the platform from which Munster scored their first try. Munster pack again putting pressure on Zebre on their own try line, the ball was distributed quickly out from JJ Hanrahan to Rory Scannell who with space to work with strode to the try line.

The visitors continued to play the rugby and Hart was the next Munster try scorer, more cohesive pack play resulting in Hart getting in from close range. After the ninth minute penalty from JJ Hanrahan, a seventeen point lead was the minimum that Munster Rugby deserved for an excellent opening.

The Bad

However, Munster Rugby discipline became more and more an issue in the second quarter. Several infringements called by the match official in addition to Munster straying offside more than once, patience was wearing thin. Copeland infringement at the breakdown in front of the Munster posts was the cue to hit for the yellow card.

Bisegni took advantage of the player advantage, evading the best efforts of JJ Hanrahan to score the first try of the afternoon for the hosts. Munster again pinged for an infringement and Sam Arnold was issued another yellow card; cue more host pressure, cue another try as Sarto crossed over.

From a position of comfort, Munster Rugby let down by their discipline were now down to thirteen players and only leading by three points. 14-17. Zebre bounced off the pitch with optimism.

Munster Regroup

The second half started with a renewed Munster focus; discipline on point until the two players were back on the pitch. Zebre Rugby were now starting to make poor game decisions deep in their own half and this setup the platform for Munster Rugby to score a quick brace of tries.

Wootton showed his pace and try scoring ability with this quick brace; first try setup by the pack which saw the hosts defensively narrow. It allowed time and space for Wootton to exploit and cross over in the corner.

The Macclesfield native then took a superb line pass from Simon Zebo to evade Zebre’s defense to secure the bonus point. The pass from Zebo sensational.

Old Habits die hard

With the bonus point secured, Munster Rugby tried to continue to work the scoreboard but a combination of poor attacking execution and inconsistent officiating saw the visitors in an ever increasing frustrated mindset.

The officiating on show today was a mixed bag; Munster Rugby were the team pinged consistently at the breakdown, it looked at times that Munster Rugby could not compete for breakdown ball. Zebre Rugby under pressure at scrum time, infringements aplenty but no yellow card in sight.

Game assessors need to be clear with match officials. Consistent decision making is required. Despite the Munster Rugby win, the team will be disappointed with the penalty count given dominance on set piece throughout.

The attacking play of Munster Rugby was ponderous at times. Hart had a good outing on his debut, kick game was on point most of the time but there were a couple of delay passes which did little for the ball receiver. Obstruction call in the second half highlighted this facet of play.

After surrendering good field position, Munster Rugby were again guilty of infringing at the breakdown. A concerted period of pressure saw a lovely diagonal kick to the corner where Venditti crossed over. The conversion was missed and the ten point gap remained.

Strong Munster Finish

The final five minutes were played in Zebre’s half. An obstruction on an aerial kick giving Munster Rugby prime platform to attack. The pack again exposing Zebre’s front five, another penalty conceded, still no yellow card but Munster Rugby kept their composure to build the phases. The ball finally made its way out to Calvin Nash who crashed over from close range. Conversion good. 19-36. Mission accomplished.

Discipline

Three week hiatus did have an impact. The side were cohesive at the start of the contest but lack of game time in recent weeks was a factor, offside calls were poor concessions from Munster.

The breakdown officiating left plenty to the imagination but Munster Rugby will look to see how they can improve this facet of play. Cloete had a prominent game in the open exchanges; energy and solid tackler. A shrewd signing from Rassie before his departure.

JJ Hanrahan had a good game with ball in hand but his kicking off the tee was at times mixed. With the battle for the ten jersey set to intensify, it will be interesting to see how the Kerry native fits into the new head coach’s plans?

Five points secured but plenty to improve upon. Fitness reports on Simon Zebo this week will be keenly watched; the full back had a stellar outing with ball in hand. His pass for Wootton’s second try was sensational. Munster will undoubtedly miss his flair next season when he departs for France.