It may have been an August pre-season encounter but one could be forgiven for thinking it was late November with unseasonable wintry conditions greeting the 2,300-plus support base in Waterford tonight for the first round of the Kearys Renault Series.
PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY: Friday, August 19
MUNSTER 17 ZEBRE 0, Waterford RSC
Scorers: Munster: Tries: Darren Sweetnam 2, Ronan O’Mahony; Con: Ian Keatley
The gale force winds and rain dictated matters on the field as it proved to be a stop start affair with opportunities for running rugby few and far between, however a solid Munster performance provided Rassie Erasmus with a 17-0 win – a first in his role as director of rugby.
In the opening half Munster played into the wind with out-half Ian Keatley growing into the role, showing his experience with his overall game management while adapting to the conditions favourably.
It was the number 10’s well-timed grubber kicks that provided the platform for two of Munster’s tries, the first coming from man-of-the-match Darren Sweetnam who was deservedly rewarded for a massive work-rate across the pitch tonight, grabbing a brace of scores.
Keatley instigated the opening try with the first kick ahead finding lively centre Colm O’Shea. He broke the tackle before a second Keatley kick, this time deeper into the opposition 22, was not dealt with by Zebre winger Giovanbattista Venditti, and Sweetnam pounced for the opening try.
A period of sustained Zebre pressure followed and Munster closed out the half deep inside their own 22, however the defence was solid and the visitors were unable to capitalise, the score remaining 5-0 in Munster’s favour at the break.
While Keatley’s opening conversion attempt fell foul of the gale force wind in the first half, he was on the money in adding the extras on 54 minutes after Ronan O’Mahony crossed the whitewash. A Keatley grubber off the back of a solid Munster scrum was beautifully weighted for the onrushing O’Mahony and Munster were out to a 12-0 lead.
Excellent running and hands saw Munster make it three tries, local man Jack O’Donoghue making the initial headway before debutant and Academy player Dan Goggin hit the gap and found Sweetnam on his right for the Corkman’s second of the night. Keatley was unable to add the extras.
Solid at set piece and firm in defence all game, Munster did well to finish out the game strongly, maintaining most of the late possession and keeping the hugely physical Italians scoreless all game.
Tonight’s pre-season opener saw a total of 12 players make senior debuts for the province. Peter McCabe, new senior recruits John Andress and Darren O’Shea, Academy players Gavin Coombes, Shane Daly, Calvin Nash, Brian Scott, Ollie Lyons and Goggin, sub-Academy player Conor Fitzgerald and club representatives Colm O’Shea (Clontarf) and John Poland (Cork Constitution) all saw game-time.
Erasmus confirmed that Dave Foley was the only match casualty for now, with the lock reporting a back spasm. He will be reviewed across the coming days.
MUNSTER: Stephen Fitzgerald; Darren Sweetnam, Cian Bohane, Colm O’Shea, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; John Ryan, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer, John Madigan, Billy Holland (capt), Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver, Jack O’Donoghue.
Replacements used: Brian Scott for Archer, Dave Foley for Madigan (both half-time), Darren O’Shea for O’Callaghan, Dan Goggin for C O’Shea (all 50 mins), Peter McCabe for Ryan, Kevin O’Byrne for Scannell (both 64), John Andress for Scott (64-78), Steve McMahon for Fitzgerald, Calvin Nash for Sweetnam, Conor Fitzgerald for Keatley, John Poland for Williams, Ollie Lyons for Oliver, Gavin Coombes for O’Donoghue (all 71), O’Callaghan for Foley (73), Shane Daly for Bohane.
ZEBRE: Carlo Canna; Giovanbattista Venditti, Tommasso Boni, Tommasso Castello, Gabriele di Giulio; Edoardo Padovani, Guglielmo Palazzani; Andrea Lovotti, Oliviero Fabiani, Pietro Ceccarelli, Gideon Koegelenberg, Federico Ruzza, Jacopo Sarto (capt), Maxime Mbandà, Derick Minnie.
Replacements: Tommaso d’Apice, Dario Chistolini, Guillermo Roan, Quintin Geldenhuys, Giovanni Pettinelli, Carlo Engelbrecht, Carlo Festuccia, Giulio Bisegni, Andrea de Marchi.
Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU)