Munster snatch dramatic victory against Benetton
PRO14 REPORT: JJ Hanrahan’s monster penalty broke Benetton hearts as Munster snatched a 15-13 victory at Thomond Park to set up a Pro14 semifinal against Leinster.
In their first ever knock-out game in this competition, Benetton led heading into the final five minutes, but were made to pay by Hanrahan, who split the posts from the halfway line at the death.
Antonio Rizzi and Jayden Hayward each had a final chance for Benetton, who scored the only try through Ratuva Tavuyara, but they pulled their drop goal attempts to the the right and Munster survived.
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) May 4, 2019
Having made history to reach the Final Series for the first time, Benetton looked far from overawed in the opening exchanges, playing a slightly more conservative game than we are used to seeing from them as they kicked for territory regularly.
Munster eventually settled into their game and started to take a stranglehold but found it hard to turn territory into points.
Toa Halafihi was penalised on the line for not releasing CJ Stander, but after Munster had gone to the corner, he redeemed himself by earning the turnover from a driving maul.
Chris Farrell was next to come close, brought down just short of the line, while Tadhg Beirne knocked on over it when Conor Murray tried to put him in.
Instead it was through the boot of Tyler Bleyendaal that they finally took the lead, the flyhalf slotting after Luca Bigi had taken Murray out at a ruck.
Benetton responded immediately, Tommaso Allan knocking over a penalty after a ruck infringement to bring the Italian side level, despite just 20 percent possession to that point.
Munster continued to press, but could not find a way through the Benetton defence, Marco Riccioni particularly eye-catching with one turnover penalty and a huge scrum to earn another.
The one issue for Benetton was how little ball they had enjoyed in attack, but when they finally did get some, they made it count.
Allan set up territory with a beautiful kick into the 22, reminiscent of Ronan O’Gara at Thomond Park.
Munster cleared their lines initially but after a line-out and some good work by the forwards down the left, they shifted the ball back to the right. The passing was slick and Tavuyara produced a trademark finish, touching down with one hand while being tackled. Allan added the touchline conversion to make it 10-3 at the break.
Johann van Graan’s side had dominated the half to little success, but showed more realism at the start of the second half, Bleyendaal knocking over a second penalty of the afternoon four minutes in.
A lot of Benetton’s success this season has been a result of their two flyers out wide, Monty Ioane and Tavuyara.
The Italians could have pulled away as both sliced through the Munster defensive line. First it was Ioane, finding Jayden Hayward, but Braam Steyn could not collect with 15 metres of open space in front of him.
Tavuyara then wriggled out of a couple of tackles and sprinted through. He lined up the final defender but replacement Hame Faiva again could not collect with the tryline at his mercy.
Munster had a chance to respond, deciding to turn down a kick at goal and instead go to the corner. That tactic failed as Federico Ruzza claimed a brilliant steal ahead of Peter O’Mahony and Benetton survived.
Instead it was Allan who stretched the lead with a penalty on the hour, after replacement JJ Hanrahan had strayed offside at a line-out.
With that Benetton led 13-6, and had 20 minutes to hold out against their hosts.
Munster hit straight back, Hanrahan knocking over a penalty to cut the deficit to four once again and put the pressure back on Benetton.
And he added another two minutes later to make it a one-point game with quarter of an hour to go.
Benetton had been rocked, but responded to set up a platform with a monster maul. They got to within inches of the line, but the Munster defence held with the game on the line.
The Italians kept coming and got up to the Munster line, but John Ryan got the all-important turnover.
CJ Stander then earned a penalty from a ruck, Benetton were brought back ten metres for kicking the ball away, and Hanrahan did the rest.
As a result Munster travel to Dublin to take on Leinster in the semifinal, taking on their provincial rivals at that stage for the second year running.
Pens: Bleyendaal 2, Hanrahan 3
Pens: Allan 2
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 John Ryan, 19 Billy Holland, 20Arno Botha, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Dan Goggin.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Tommaso Allan (captain), 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Irné Herbst, 20 Dean Budd, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 23 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Alberto Sgarbi.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse (Wales), Dan Jones (Wales)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)