When the season review DVD if released by Munster Rugby next year, this game is probably going to be quickly mentioned in order to move onto other more exciting season defining fixtures. Munster Rugby secured a bonus point road trip win over Zebre Rugby in extremely energy sapping pitch conditions in Parma. Hawkeye Sidekick reports on the action.
Difficult pitch conditions
Let us be brutally blunt; this fixture and the manner of the exchanges were wholly determined by extremely difficult pitch conditions. Both sides adopted conservative game plan approaches in the opening period with the hosts starting the game with vigor as Munster Rugby did not commit to the breakdown battle, instead look to rip ball when the opportunity presented itself. The chief tormentor for Zebre Rugby in this facet of play was Arno Botha whose physicality in the tackle was causing unforced errors for the hosts.
Zebre Rugby good start snuffed out
A good start from the hosts suddenly evaporated as Munster Rugby started to go through their phase play. Neil Cronin and the late call up Bill Johnston playing game smart rugby with good kicks to the corners, forcing Zebre Rugby to go through the phases deep in their own half. It was not long before Munster Rugby would strike the front as Fineen Wycherley crossed over impressive to touchdown after several keynote pack ball carries. Bill Johnston added the extras. 7-0 after seventeen minutes.
Munster dominate the second quarter
The Wycherley try took its toll on the Zebre Rugby personnel. Michael Bradley and management forced to make a number of substitutions due to injury. Munster Rugby were controlling the gain line battle and with the half-backs and Tyler Bleyendaal making the right calls to secure territorial advantage and forcing more Zebre Rugby unforced errors in their own half.
Munster Rugby thought that they had a second try as impressive phase work saw Coombes jinx past his defensive player to offload to Alex Wootton who with the try line at his mercy lost control at the vital time. It was a temporary lapses as the visitors scored a second try down the right channel. Kevin O’Byrne who impressed today with ball in hand, gaining good yardage crossed over with a solid running line from close range. More Zebre Rugby injury woe as the tackler of Kevin O’Byrne had to go off with a knee injury.
Zebre Rugby were under the gun and a penalty award just inside their half was emphatically punished by Bill Johnston with an unerring penalty kick. 0-17 at the break. Munster Rugby in the ascendancy and the expectation of more points in the second half.
Listless third quarter
The expected points avalanche in the third quarter never materialized as the game became severely disjointed and unstructured. Both sides guilty of unforced errors and Munster Rugby perhaps guilty of not pushing the fixture more for a more cautious approach. The highlight of the third quarter was a handbags incident on the Munster try line as Zebre Rugby started to gain momentum in the maul and were held up just short. Conor Murray diving on the ball to prevent the try sparked players on both sides having a push and shove; more to keep warm given the bleak conditions in Parma.
Zebre Rugby score but Munster finish strong
The hosts were enjoying their best spell of the game in the third quarter; the pack were starting to enjoy advantages in their own line out and maul, yielding a couple of Munster Rugby penalties. Their pressure and persistence being rewarded as Giammarioli spectacularly dived over for a try despite the best efforts of Conor Oliver. Brummer slotted over the conversion. 7-17 with fifteen minutes left to setup an intriguing end to a dreary contest.
Munster Rugby though regained their territorial dominance and with Zebre Rugby starting to tire, a penalty was conceded. Rory Scannell slotted over the three points and this setup the crescendo for the visitors with two tries in the final ten minutes. Ronan O’Mahony alert as ever for an opportunistic try as Zebre Rugby floundered in dealing with a kick in behind from Tyler Bleyendaal. A game finishing score; Zebre Rugby deflated.
The final quarter saw Conor Murray and Tyler Bleyendaal take control of affairs; both used their experience to play the percentages and send their pack deep into Zebre Rugby territory. More indiscipline from Zebre Rugby with five minutes to go providing the platform for Munster Rugby to launch one last attack to secure a bonus point try. Good work from the Munster Rugby pack setting up Murray to identify Rory Scannell on the sideline, skip pass taking out two Zebre Rugby defensive players for the center to score.
Munster Rugby were patient and conservative throughout; they played the conditions well and forced Zebre Rugby unforced errors at a regular period. The return of the likes of Conor Murray, Chris Farrell, Jaco Taute and Conor Oliver a pleasing sight for the Irish province with the busy festive period looming large. The young players in the squad continue to impress. Wycherley and Coombes were standouts in the pack with their work load. O’Byrne continues to impress along with Bill Johnston.
The role of Tyler Bleyendaal at the three quarters was key to providing key territorial gains today as the New Zealander continues to get the game minutes to improve his performances. A good hit out for Munster Rugby on a mud bath pitch. Five points secured and second place in the Conference A further consolidated. Move on and focus on the home fixture to Edinburgh Rugby.