Pro14: Munster battle to bonus-point win over Zebre
|Pro14: Munster v Zebre|
|Munster (5) 31|
|Tries: Loughman, Marshall, Sweetnam, N Scannell, Haley Cons: Bleyendaal 3|
|Zebre (12) 12|
|Tries: Elliott, Tenga Con: Canna|
Munster recovered from 12 points behind to overpower Zebre with a bonus-point win at Thomond Park to keep pace with Conference A leaders Glasgow Warriors.
Early tries by Jamie Elliott and Roberto Tenga gave Zebre a chance of their first-ever win over Munster.
The Irish province mauled their way out of danger as Jeremy Loughman, Rhys Marshall and Niall Scannell drove over.
Wing Darren Sweetnam and full-back Mike Haley also scored during an improved second-half by the hosts.
Glasgow's bonus-point victory against the Cheetahs leaves them three points clear of Munster at the top of the conference standings with three regular-season games remaining.
Zebre stun Thomond crowd
Zebre came to Limerick looking to end a miserable 10-match losing streak in the Pro14 and they rocked Munster with a powerful opening-quarter spell.
The return of Italy internationals Andrea Lovotti and David Sisi gave the visiting pack added power against a second-string Munster unit and Zebre won the early collisions to forge their opening score.
Zebre's forwards bludgeoned their way to the Munster line before the ball was swiftly worked to the left wing, where Elliott beat the covering defence to the corner.
Carlo Canna missed a difficult conversion attempt but the fly-half was instrumental in his side's next score when his clever grubber kick was fumbled by Haley and Tenga was able to dive on the ball as it bounced over the line.
A chastened Munster twice chose to kick into the corner instead of going for the posts and they were twice repelled by the visitors.
Canna failed with two long-range penalty attempts and Munster somehow trailed by just one converted score at the break after a third kick into the corner was eventually converted by Loughman.
Munster maul to victory
Ireland international Chris Farrell and fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal were introduced by Munster within minutes of the restart and they helped to forge inroads against a tiring Zebre defensive line.
A lengthy injury delay for Zebre hooker Oliviero Fabiani allowed Munster to plot their next try; they kicked into the corner and a 10-man maul drove across the line for Marshall to score. Bleyendaal landed the conversion to level the match.
The visitors spurned a chance to regain the lead when scrum-half Guglielmo Palazzani missed the posts with his penalty attempt after Chris Cloete was yellow carded for a no-arms tackle.
Although down to 14 men, Munster powered clear with the first of three final-quarter tries when a skip pass by Bleyendaal and quick hands from Haley allowed Sweetnam to dive over in the right corner.
Replacement hooker Niall Scannell was next to score at the tail of the Munster maul before Haley sliced through a gap in the dying seconds to put an extra gloss on the scoreboard.
'Our try on half-time was crucial'
Munster head coach Johann van Graan on Premier Sports: "We kicked the ball away quite a few times and lost it in contact but our try on half-time was crucial and I thought we played really well in the second half.
"They were better than us in the contact areas in the first half and they kicked the ball better than us but we came out with a better attitude in the second half. I thought we got some rhythm then and scored some really good tries.
"I thought the players responded really well and took ownership of the game. To score those tries in the second half was very pleasing."
Munster: Haley; Sweetnam, Goggin, R Scannell, Wootton; Hanrahan, Mathewson; Loughman, Marshal, Archer, Wycherley, O'Shea, O'Donoghue, Cloete, Stander (capt).
Replacements: N Scannell, O'Connor, Ryan, Kleyn, Botha, Williams, Bleyendaal, Farrell.
Sin bin: Cloete 57
Zebre: Padovani; Di Giulio, Bisgeni, Boni, Elliott; Canna, Palazzani; Lovotti, Fabiani, Tenga, Sisi, Biaga (capt), Mbanda, Tuivaiti, Giammarioli.
Replacements: Luus, Rimpelli, Ciccioli, Krumov, Tauyavuca, Violi, Brummer, Bellini