JJ Hanrahan leaves it late in Italy
JJ Hanrahan’s last-gasp drop goal snatched a late 18-16 Guinness Pro14 victory for Munster at Benetton.
The Italians looked to be on course to record their first league win since December 2019 when they led 16-15 as the clock hit 80 minutes, but a spell of concerted Munster pressure gave them the opportunity to feed Hanrahan and he stroked his effort through the middle of the posts.
Ben Healy stretched Munster’s lead with a simple penalty but a late try from Leonardo Sarto edged the Italians in front before Hanrahan settled matters.
Munster made the breakthrough with just two minutes on the clock when a kick to the corner from full-back Mike Haley was allowed to bounce by Benetton full-back Jayden Hayward and the ball bounced off his knee into the in-goal area, allowing wing Sweetnam to touch down for a simple try.
And the visitors went in for their second try after nine minutes when Liam Coombs intercepted a long pass and sent Nick McCarthy away and after he was brought down five yards from the line he popped the ball up for Niall Scannell to cross.
Benetton were temporarily reduced to 14 men midway through the first half when prop Marco Riccioni was yellow-carded for using his shoulder in the tackle.
Benetton did not sit back and they reduced the arrears after 27 minutes with a spell of pressure on the Munster line being rewarded with a try from Esposito.
As the Italians spun the ball wide, Joaquin Riera drew the tackle from Sweetnam before freeing Esposito out wide to run in at the corner before Allan pulled his conversion attempt wide.
Bennetton were growing in confidence and continued to apply pressure in the Munster 22 and when the Irish province were penalised for not rolling away in the tackle, Allan struck a straightforward penalty as the Italians added eight points with Riccioni off the field.
And when Benetton turned the ball over late in the first half, Allan sent the resulting penalty through the posts to send the Italians into the break just 12-11 down.
Benetton picked up where they left off after the interval and Juan Ignacio Brex and Toa Halafihi both broke the defensive line as the hosts camped in the Munster 22 but the move broke down when a loose pass from Hayward went into touch.
After weathering the storm, Munster made a rare foray into the Benetton 22 and after winning a penalty for another breakdown infringement, Healy took the three points on offer to extend the lead to four points.
Back came Benetton as second-rower Federico Ruzza broke from a ruck and flipped a pass to Callum Braley bearing down on the Munster line but the move was snuffed out as the Irish province got numbers back.
Benetton had a wonderful opportunity to take the lead for the first time 10 minutes from the end when a flipped pass found Tommaso Benvenuti in space on the left but a brilliant covering tackle from Haley prevented him from grounding the ball.
Moments later though, the Italians did go in. Hayward created space cutting across the field and spun the ball out to Sarto, who broke the tackles of Haley and Dan Goggin to touch down.
But with the clock in the red Munster applied pressure in the Benetton 22 and, after gradually edging forward, played the ball back to Hanrahan in the pocket and he slotted the winning drop goal to break Benetton hearts.
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