By John Keogh
Peter O’Mahony returned as Munster racked up seven tries and briefly went top of the PRO12 table with a 49-5 win over Zebre at Thomond Park on Saturday.
The bonus point was secured before the break with four tries and another three were added after the break. The big victory over Zebre is Munster’s fourth in five PRO12 games.
Even better news for Munster was the return of captain O’Mahony who came off the bench to play his first game in over a year.
O’Mahony got injured in Ireland’s World Cup game against France and has had to be very patient in during his rehabilitation period.
He had been expected to be back at the start of this season but his return is a big boost for the province. O’Mahony got a huge reception when he entered the fray for the final 20 minutes.
It was a near perfect display by Munster as all seven tries were converted. Tyler Bleyendaal kicked four while sub Ian Keatley landed three in the second half.
Munster started the game in fine fashion with an early try by winger Darren Sweetnam. The former Cork hurler has had an impressive season thus far and he benefitted from a brilliant Conor Murray break to open the scoring.
Zebre responded well after the concession of that try and should have reduced Munster’s lead to four but out half Carlo Canna kicked a penalty wide five minutes after Sweetnam’s try.
The Corkman had to be alive to some danger when Zebre attacked after Giovanbattista Venditti intercepted and looked to be heading for a length of the field try.
That was a big let off for Munster and Murray got their second try a minute later when he touched down after Munster’s maul drove right through the Zebre pack.
Munster were well on top after that and added a third on 28 minutes when CJ Stander blocked a clearing kick and then gathered the ball to score an easy try.
Try number three arrived for the province just before the half-hour mark when number eight Stander blocked down an attempted clearance from the Zebre defence before touching down.
The try bonus point was secured four minutes later. The impressive Bleyendaal intercepted before passing the ball to Sweetnam who in turn found Murray.
Murray chipped through for Zebo who finished off a magnificent move to put Munster in at the break 28-0 ahead.
Munster started the second half well and were awarded a penalty try 12 minutes in after Darren Sweetnam chased his own kick.
He was unceremoniously tackled off the ball by Gideon Koegelenberg and referee Daniel Jones gave the penalty try and gave Koegelenberg a yellow card.
Stephen Archer was next to get in on the act with Munster’s sixth try. Ian Keatley made the initial break before he passed to Archer who was left with an easy score.
Zebre did get a consolation try through Gabriele di Giulio but Munster wrapped up a comprehensive win when Stander added Munster’s seventh try two minutes from time.
The return of O’Mahony is a huge boost for Munster as they head into their biggest game of the season against Leinster this weekend.
Tries: Darren Sweetnam, Conor Murray, CJ Stander (2), Simon Zebo, Stephen Archer, Penalty try.
Conversions: Tyler Bleyendaal (4), Ian Keatley (3)
Try: Gabriele Di Giulio
Munster: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Keith Earls (Cian Bohane ’48), Jaco Taute, Alex Wootton; Tyler Bleyendaal (Ian Keatley ’48), Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’60); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’60), Duncan Casey (Niall Scannell ’67), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’67); Donnacha Ryan, Darren O’Shea (Peter O’Mahony ’60); Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell (Conor Oliver ’67), CJ Stander.
Zebre: Edoardo Padovani; Gabriele Di Giulio, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Castello (Tommaso Boni ’54), Giovanbattista Venditti (Lloyd Greeff ’54); Carlo Canna, Guglielmo Palazzani (Carlo Engelbrecht ’68); Andrea Lovotti (Bruno Postiglioni ’64), Tommaso D’Apice (Carlo Festuccia ’60), Dario Chistolini (Guillermo Roan ’50); Quntin Geldenhuys, Gideon Koegelenberg; Jacopo Sarto (Derick Minnie ’46), Johan Meyer (Joshua Furno ’65), Federico Ruzza.
REFEREE: Dan Jones (WRU)