Munster got their Guinness Pro 14 league campaign off to an excellent start, scoring six tries in a rout of a very disappointing Benetton Rugby in Cork. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action; fears for the Italians and sees some positives in the Munster performance despite the one way traffic which ensued last night.
Treviso crushed in the opening period
You have to feel for a team who before the start of the game views the fixture as a chance for optimism, an opportunity to create a springboard for the rest of the season. Those were the sentiments coming from the Benetton Rugby camp ahead of the fixture and Munster were on alert that the Italians would provide a stiff test.
However, it was contrary as Munster pounced on Benetton Rugby unforced errors to produce an opening period which saw five tries scores and the bonus point secured after only thirty minutes. The opening exchanges had seen Benetton Rugby look to carry ball, set the platform but a couple of unforced errors and penalties had Munster at the five meter line of their opponents.
Jean Kleyn was a beast throughout in the opening period; looking for ball and smashing whatever was in his way. It was fitting that the South African lock stretched to cross over for the first try after concerted Munster pressure and phases on the Benetton try line. 7-0. The floodgates were now open and Munster’s back field were relishing the opportunity to impress.
Andrew Conway was starting to have a man of the match cameo from full back. His run and kick chase resulted in Ian McKinley being dumped into touch. Bleyendaal did well to rescue an errand line out throw and subsequent hard line running of Farrell, Kleyn, Holland resulted in Munster yet again in the red zone. Williams’ delayed short pass to Bleyendaal was excellent and Munster had their second try of the evening. The conversion was missed but 12-0.
Benetton Rugby to their credit then had a brief period of dominance and opened their account with a penalty from New Zealander Marty Banks. A regulation penalty after good work from the Benetton pack. 12-3 and perhaps the Italians were warming to the task. Wrong. Munster put the foot to the floor for the next ten minutes and the contest was over.
The Munster pack were industrious, abrasive in contact and carried the ball with efficiency. Quick clear out work from the likes of Sean O’Connor, Tommy O’Donnell and Jack O’Donoghue setting the platform for Munster to launch their back line at will at times in the opening period. Sweetnam taking full benefit of this pack dominance, staying out wide and executing the try chance presented with aplomb.
Benetton Rugby cleared their lines with what looked like a good box kick into Munster’s half immediately after the third try concession. Conway arrived to the ball with conviction with pace and burst through the first tackle. Several offloads from Munster and Alex Wootton in space with plenty to do but the youngster put on the afterburners to score a sublime score. Excellent passing, movement, decision making in the lead up.
The Italians were looking down the barrel and the fifth try was not long in coming. Taute and Sweetnam passing created the line break for Andrew Conway to run unopposed for another try. Conway’s form continues to impress like last season; his man of the match display bodes well for Munster this season.
The second half lacked the cohesion of the first; understandable given it was the first league fixture of the season. Munster scored their sixth try when the pack asserted dominance in a maul to crash over. Benetton Rugby’s penalty count meaning that they were now playing with fourteen men. That was the end of the scoring as both sides called on their benches for some valuable game minutes.
The only sour note for Munster was a serious injury sustained by emerging prospect Dan Goggins; it looked a serious knee injury and hopefully the player can recover quickly. Goggins had a breakout season last year and it would be devastating for the player to miss out any extended period of action.
The debutantes all showed well for Munster. Chris Farrell at thirteen looks to have all the attributes to be a success at the club. Physically imposing, good pace and speed, excellent distribution showed allow his back line colleagues to revel even more this season. Liam O’Connor is a player to watch out for; was very impressed by his work rate and application last night, more competition to the squad. Sean O’Connor was prominent in the breakdown exchanges and his conditioning was point with a late steal. Management will be pleased. James Hart’s cameo was impressive; got involved early doors, more competition for the nine jersey.
Next for Munster is the visit of The Cheetahs at Thomond Park next Saturday. The Cheetahs showed flashes of brilliance last night in their reversal to Ulster to suggest that they will pose a serious threat to Munster in all facets of play. It is an unique fixture, one that the local fans will embrace. The Cheetahs are a superb addition to the league and next weekend should be a spectacular occasion. A reunion for Rassie with his former employers.
Where now for Benetton Rugby? This club is essentially the defacto top Italian club this season. All the resources from Italian RFU was pretty much designated to the club as they decided that Zebre being left as a developmental team. Benetton worked hard but they were second best against an experimental Munster outfit in defensive and attacking duties. It looks like another dour season awaits for Benetton Rugby, bad news for the Italian national side as Benetton Rugby struggle for form and confidence. Ominous signs.