Munster overcame a lacklustre first half display to pull clear of a battling Benetton Treviso outfit and register their first win in this season’s Heineken Cup.
Thomond Park fell eerily quiet as Benetton Treviso broke into a 10-0 lead thanks to tries from Australian winger Brendan Williams and England Sevens captain Andy Vilk.
Scrum problems, handling errors and an injury to Doug Howlett did not help a nervy Munster side seeking to bounce back from last weekend’s opening Pool 1 defeat to Northampton Saints.
But using the experience built up over 11 successive years of qualifying for the Heineken Cup’s knockout stages, Munster hit back with tries from Paul Warwick and Ian Dowling to take a 12-10 interval lead.
And crushing Treviso’s hopes of following up on their home triumph over Perpignan in round one, Tony McGahan’s men pulled clear in the second half as Denis Leamy, Denis Fogarty, David Wallace, Dowling and Jean de Villiers took the try tally to a flattering seven.
Using their powerful set piece as a platform, Treviso forced the issue early on and out-half Marius Goosen was unfortunate when miscuing a second minute penalty attempt.
Robust defending from Dion Kingi and his pack helped them keep Munster out and the home fans – subdued for most of the opening half – were stunned when Williams grabbed the opening try.
Centre Alberto Sgarbi barged his way forward in midfield and Williams’ well-judged chip and chase heaped pressure on the Munster rearguard.
Camped near the hosts’ line, Treviso turned the screw, won a free-kick and opted for a scrum and a swift delivery from scrum half Fabio Semenzato sent the diminutive Williams looping past Marcus Horan and in at the left corner.
Goosen failed to convert but his opposite number O’Gara was also struggling with the boot, landing just one of his three first half efforts.
Howlett rampaged forward, making ground with two hand-offs, but just when Munster were gathering serious momentum, Vilk got back well to touch down an O’Gara grubber kick.
Vilk showed he was equally adept in attack, on 24 minutes, when he gathered a kick through from Williams, shipped a tackle from Lifeimi Mafi and slid over the Munster whitewash – television match official Daniel Gillet confirming the grounding.
Kicking in Goosen’s absence, Sgarbi’s conversion attempt faded to the left.
But, after a limping Howlett saved a certain try at the other end, Munster built for a decisive crescendo before half-time.
The home pack grunted forward and Warwick took full advantage of a mismatch with Treviso hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini to round in and score to the right of the posts.
O’Gara’s successful conversion closed the gap to three points and Munster moved 12-10 ahead in first half injury-time.
O’Gara turned down a shot at the posts, taking a quick tap and after seven phases, Warwick’s steepling kick over to the left was brilliantly juggled and dotted down by replacement Dowling.
The second period was effectively all Munster, beginning with Leamy’s try from close range just two minutes in.
Donncha O’Callaghan, who came to the fore in the lineout, secured possession for Leamy’s try and also picked off a lineout steal which set the wheels in motion for Fogarty’s 53rd-minute score.
Notching the bonus point try, the hooker profited from an intricate passing move between de Villiers, Alan Quinlan and the increasingly influential Warwick to power over in the left corner.
O’Gara’s place-kicking was not up to his usual high standard but Munster, now rampant, did not need conversions.
With Treviso chasing the game, Wallace, Dowling and de Villiers exploited the gaps in a tiring Italian defence and collected three more tries.
Keith Earls deserves a mention for his lightning, quick-stepping break off a restart in the lead-up to Wallace’s try, while South African de Villiers crossed for his first Heineken Cup try after midfield breaks from O’Gara and Mafi.