Munster 15-13 Benetton: Irish province survive huge PRO14 quarter-final scare
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 05/05/19 8:38am
For the second PRO14 campaign in succession Munster will travel to face Leinster in a semi-final, after Johann van Graan's side had to rely on a late JJ Hanrahan penalty to see off Benetton 15-13 at Thomond Park.
Benetton, who made history by becoming the first Italian side to make the play-offs in history, played with fantastic fluidity in attack but just fell short with three minutes remaining.
Outstanding wing Ratuva Tavuyara scored the game's only try for Benetton, with the boot of Tomasso Allan seemingly putting the Italians on course for what would arguably have been the biggest shock in the tournament's history.
Despite being far from their best, Munster recovered to book a place in the final four when replacement Hanrahan showed superb nerve and technique to kick a 50-metre penalty with time running out for victory.
Despite relentless pressure in the Benetton third of the pitch and over 80 per cent possession, it took Munster until the 23rd minute to hit the front via a Tyler Bleyendaal penalty from just shy of 40 metres out.
Having been on the back-foot for the majority of the early stages, Benetton took less than three minutes to respond with their first points when Munster skipper Peter O'Mahony was penalised at the breakdown and Tommaso Allan levelled the tie.
The strength of Benetton's defence breathed life and energy into the Italian outfit's performance and in the very final attack of the half, wing Tavuyara spectacularly finished in the corner, with Allan adding a stunning touchline conversion for a surprise 10-3 half-time lead.
Munster started the second period with more verve to their attack, and reduced the deficit to 10-6 on 44 minutes when Bleyendaal struck a penalty from close range after Benetton second row Federico Ruzza was pinged for going off feet.
The Irish province were fortunate not to conceded a second try on 48 minutes though, when some wonderful Benetton offloading and incisive running from wing Monty Ioane and full-back Jayden Hayward presented Abraham Steyn a chance with the tryline at his mercy, but the backrow knocked on.
Benetton stretched their lead further when Hanrahan was caught offside off a scrum near his own 22, and Allan successfully split the uprights for 13-6.
Hanrahan brought the contest back to a four-point game soon after, however, when he struck a penalty after Benetton's Irne Herbst was penalised for a swinging arm.
Inside the final 15 minutes, Munster chipped more off the Benetton lead - reducing it to a single point - when Hanrahan slotted a routine penalty from close range after Arno Botha had made a barnstorming run into the opposition 22.
And with three minutes left, after some heavy Benetton pressure in the Munster half was ended by a critical CJ Stander breakdown steal, the Italian's were penalised for kicking the ball away, and penalty marched forward to the halfway line.
That brought it just within the range of Hanrahan, who produced a sensational strike to steal the lead late on.
There still proved enough time for two Benetton drop goal attempts, but replacement Antonio Rizzi miscued from just outside the Munster 22 when he ought to have done better, while Hayward also hit an attempt wide with the clock in the red and from much further out.
Munster must now wait two weeks to face Leinster at the RDS on Saturday May 18, with their Irish counterparts also in action next weekend against Saracens in the final of the European Cup at St James' Park in Newcastle.