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JJ Hanrahan saves the day as Munster qualify for the semi-final

Aidan Corr, Thomond Park
Munster 15, Benetton Rugby 13
Attendance, 10,042
AFTER a dreadful first half performance and some edgy times in the second period, Munster scraped into the semi-final of this season’s Guinness PRO14 Championship with a victory that they barely deserved. The expected flow of scores in the second half, after trailing 3-10 at the break, never materialised and it was the visitors who had most of the chances in a thrilling final few minutes. That second half was nail-biting, Munster going into the lead for the first time late in the game and holding out for a meeting with their greatest rivals.
On a perfect day for rugby and on the pristine surface of the Limerick stadium, Munster faced a difficult second 40 minutes after an opening half that will make difficult viewing in the days ahead. They had the bulk of possession but they faced a Benetton side that really had their homework done.
Trailing 3-10, Munster needed a quick score. It came with just three minutes into the second, Peter O’Mahony robbing a lineout, a penalty was awarded and Tyler Bleyendaal popped the ball between the posts to cut the lead to 6-10. Benetton got a glorious chance of a second try on 47 minutes, Luca Bigi, Antonio Rizzi and Abraham Stein combining but the final pass went astray ten metres from the line. A major let-off for Munster. The home defence was all over the place as this game progressed and Tuvuyara went past a number of weak tackles before being hauled down close to the Munster line. The home side needed something to happen and happen quickly with 50 minutes played. They opted for the corner from a kickable penalty in search of a try that would have put them into the lead but lost the lineout.
With 25 minutes remaining the ‘unthinkable’ was becoming more likely. You could feel the anxiety in the Munster camp from the stand as Benetton looked likely to add to their lead. Two penalty decisions against the home side led to Benetton regaining a seven point lead, Tommy Allan accurate from 30 metres out to make it 6-13. Munster were now in ‘frenzy mode’ but still the Italians manned their defence magnificently. JJ Hanrahan again cut the deficit to four points with 18 minutes remaining and this result was on a knife-edge. Stander won a penalty on halfway, Arno Botha marked his arrival with a good break and JJ Hanrahan left just a single point from a penalty under the posts. 12-13 with 13 minutes to go.
Benetton had a try chance coming up to 70 minutes as their band of supporters were off their seats. Again the Italians pounded the line as the home side deprived them of what could have been a match-winning try but it was Munster who got the break, a relieving plenalty that brought them play inside the opposing half. A crooked throw from the lineout again proved costly. As the tension rose with five minutes remaining, the Italians’ indiscipline cost them dearly, a penalty straight in front of the posts and on the halfway line. JJ Hanrahan cooly kicked the three points and Munster were ahead 15-13 with three minutes to go.
Rizzi got a last chance to win the game bit is drop goal effort went well wide.
The opening ten minutes produced little good quality rugby and it took a left-booted kick through from Rory Scannell to create the first scoring chance of this quarter final. Stander was held up brilliantly by Nicola Quaglia on the line but referee Barnes had awarded a penalty. In a slightly bizarre situation, as Tyler Bleyendaal was about to attempt the kick, referee Nigel Barnes interjected and brought the position of the kick closer to the touchline. Munster captain Peter O’Mahony then got his spoke in with man in the middle and this time Munster opted for a penalty lineout which failed to produce a score.
The Italian defence came well-prepared for the Munster onslaught and with 15 minutes played, and Munster continually in possession, this game remained scoreless. Tadhg Beirne crashed through but failed to down the ball as the boys in green continued to frustrate the home side.
As the quality of the game deteriorated, Munster were awarded a penalty a metre outside the ten metre line and Tyler Bleyendaal put his side 3-0 in front with 22 minutes played.
It was minimum reward for almost total domination by Munster and they paid a price, Peter O’Mahony whistled as Benetton made their first incursion inside the home ten metres and they levelled it at 3-3 with a penalty kick from Tomasso Allan on 26 mimutes. The errors by the home side mounted as they tried to unlock the Italian defence and those who expected a runaway win for Munster were beginning to change their minds.
With two minutes remaining in the first half Benetton scored a brilliantly taken try, right wing Ratuva Tavuyara diving spectacularly over in the corner at the Mayorstone end and Tommaso Allan kicking the conversions from the most difficult of angles.
Half time, Munster 3, Benetton 10.
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Darren Sweetnam; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (Capt), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Liasm O’Connor, John Ryan, Billy Holland, Arno Botha, Alby Mathewson, JJ Hanrahan, Dan Goggin
Benetton: Jayden Hayward; Ratuva Tavuyara, Marco Zanon, Luca Morisi, Monty Ioane; Tommaso Allan (Capt), Dewaldt Duvenage; Nicola Quaglio, Luca Bigi, Marco Riccioni, Marco Lazzaroni, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Abraham Steyn, Toa Halafihi.
Replacements: Hame Faiva, Derrick Appiah, Tiziano Pasquali, Irné Herbst, Dean Budd, Tito Tebaldi, Antonio Rizzi, Alberto Sgarbi
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
AR1: Ben Whitehouse (WRU), AR2: Dan Jones (WRU)
TMO: Ian Davies (WRU)

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