Alex McHenry, Keynan Knox, Roman Salanoa and Ben Healy all collected their first senior tries in Munster’s 31-17 bonus-point win over Benetton in the final round of the Guinness PRO14 at Thomond Park.
Benetton’s hopes of avoiding a winless PRO14 campaign were raised by captain Dewaldt Duvenage’s superbly-created 22nd-minute try, but the Conference B winners hit back on the stroke of half-time through McHenry to lead 10-7.
Much-changed ahead of next week’s PRO14 final against Leinster, Munster then raced clear courtesy of those scores from props Knox and Salanoa.
Benetton can be proud of their finish, though, as they sandwiched Healy’s 73rd-minute effort with well-taken tries from Corniel Els and Giovanni Pettinelli.
History was made in Limerick as the referee and TMO roles were filled by female officials – Hollie Davidson and Joy Neville respectively – for the first time in a top-tier men’s professional club rugby game.
Play was condensed between both 22s before Benetton burst into life, winning a scrum against the head and showing clever use of a penalty advantage.
Angelo Esposito gobbled up Tommaso Allan’s pass over the top and beat his man, linking inside with Joaquin Riera who offloaded invitingly out of a tackle and Pettinelli did likewise, allowing scrum-half Duvenage to flop over from a metre out.
Allan’s conversion from out wide was cancelled out by a JJ Hanrahan penalty, and the former flicked a penalty wide in the 29th minute.
Despite losing lively scrum-half Paddy Patterson to injury, the hosts got the try they craved late on in the first half. Rory Scannell’s slick offload took out two defenders and put centre McHenry in behind the posts for Hanrahan to convert.
A Chris Cloete steal had Munster hunting down a second score on the resumption, and six minutes in, the 21-year-old Knox lunged over with support from O’Donoghue. Hanrahan’s conversion opened up a 10-point gap.
The Benetton defence was worn down through 12 phases for Hawaiian-born replacement Salanoa to drive in underneath the posts in the 58th minute. Hanrahan converted with his final kick to make it 24-7.
Crossing prevented the Italians from responding initially, but they deservedly clawed back five points via a 70th-minute maul and replacement Els’ grounding.
Munster soon exploited space out wide when replacement Healy fed Liam Coombes and took a return pass to score and convert.
Benetton number eight Pettinelli had the final say, charging through a defensive gap with two minutes left.
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