Updated Jun 11th 2021, 8:07 PM
Zebre 11Munster 54
MUNSTER ENDED A disappointing week and signed off on a long season with a performance full of energy, Johann van Graan’s side recording a well-deserved 54-11 win away to Zebre.
Their preparations for the game had been far from ideal, coming on the back of a week where four of their players suffered burn injuries in a fire pit accident before an outbreak of Covid in the Ospreys camp signalled the end of the Rainbow Cup in terms of actual competition, with Benetton instead receiving a bye and advancing straight through to the tournament’s cross-hemisphere final.
It set up what could have been an underwhelming end to another frustrating season for Munster, but under the evening Parma sunshine, they played with style, intent and purpose to end their 2020/21 campaign on a winning note.
Head coach Van Graan – who resisted the temptation to flood his starting team with young players – will have been pleased to see the superb duo of Gavin Coombes and Craig Casey lead the charge.
Coombes, one of Munster’s strongest performers this season, simply proved too powerful for Zebre, always making ground with his carries and scoring four of their eight tries.
As Coombes left Zebre bruised, Casey left them dizzy. The scrum-half was central to everything Munster did well – always looking for the gaps, moving the ball at pace and using a series of quick-tap penalties to get his team up the pitch.
After a slightly nervy start to the game, Munster quickly began to take control and took the lead following their first real foray into the Zebre 22.
The visitors pushed towards the line following a well-worked lineout move, with Zebre eventually pinged for a penalty. Before the Italians had settled back into position, Coombes took a quick-tap penalty on the five-metre line and used some smart footwork and his considerable force on the ball to get over the line, despite the best efforts of three Zebre defenders. Carbery clipped over the conversion, and Munster were up and running.
Zebre threatened in flashes and at times played wonderful rugby, launching most of their attacks from deep, but lacked any real clinical edge. Giovanni D’Onofrio and Jacopo Trulla combined beautifully to break down the left wing, but the ball was eventually turned inside and fumbled following some great recovery work by Peter O’Mahony.
Carlo Canna then stepped up to kick Zebre’s first points of the night with a close-range penalty, and followed up with a similar effort three minutes later to make it a one-point game.
That was to be as good as it would get for Michael Bradley’s side. Marcelo Violi saw a kick travel out on the full, offering Munster a lineout on the edge of the Zebre 22. Fineen Wycherley rose highest to collect Niall Scannell’s throw, and Munster worked the ball from left to right with pace via a string of crisp passes. Andrew Conway then did well to cut back inside and was brought to ground, but Casey was on hand to collect the ball and snipe over.
Craig Casey scores a try for Munster. Source: Luca Sighinolfi/INPHO
Carbery took full advantage with a superb conversion from the touchline, leaving Munster with a 14-point return from their two visits to the Zebre 22.
Despite falling behind the home side were happy to continue throwing the ball around but were losing the physical battle, and Munster’s third try came via another well-executed lineout move. Scannell found Wycherley again, with Coombes peeling off the back for his second try, Carbery adding the extras again.
The bonus point arrived just before half-time. From the back of a solid Munster scrum, Carbery clipped a perfectly-weighted kick behind the Zebre defence. Chris Farrell collected under pressure and played in Casey, who had the simple task of dotting down under the posts, leaving Munster 28-3 up at the break.
They picked up where they left off after the interval, with Niall Scannell next over the line after Zebre were pinged for another penalty.
The game then started to loosen up as both teams emptied their benches, with Zebre beginning to see more of the ball and conjuring up some real moments of magic. A series of quick offloads kick-started a promising move which was brought to an end as Carbery recovered to bring Frederico Mori to ground.
With Zebre’s next attack Mori managed to spin inside Farrell to register Zebre’s first try of the evening, but Casilio dragged the conversion wide.
Any hopes that Zebre might build on that breakthrough quickly evaporated as they attempted to launch another end-to-end attack. This time, Mori’s chip was blocked by Liam Coombes, who collected the ball cleanly and had the simplest of tasks to race over. Carbery kicked his sixth conversion before making way for 22-year-old Jake Flannery.
Billy Holland, playing in a Munster jersey for the final time, soon followed the young out-half into the action. His first contribution was to win a lineout which led to Coombes’ hat-trick try, the number eight capitalising on a mix-up in the Zebre defence to charge over from distance, totally uncontested.
A frantic end to the game saw Giovanni D’Onofrio sent to the bin before Coombes scored his fourth, again crashing over from close range.
A fitting end to a dominant evening.