Zebre’s long wait for a RaboDirect PRO12 victory goes on after Munster came from behind to record a 43-21 bonus-point victory at the Stadio XXV Aprile.
The Irish province had trailed at the break to Luciano Orquera’s impish strike and a wonderful break and touch down from hooker Andrea Macini.
But second half scores from Paddy Butler, a brace for CJ Stander and the nerveless kicking of JJ Hanrahan gave Munster the lead and they held on to make it two wins from two this season.
Munster had the best of the opening exchanges, going ahead through two early penalties from Hanrahan. But Zebre refused to lie down and a strong drive into the Munster 22 ended with skipper Damien Varley going offside allowing fly-half Luciano Orquera to reduce the deficit to 6-3 from the right of the posts.
And Zebre took a surprise lead when forward pressure won a second penalty in the Munster 22 and instead of lining up a shot at the posts Orquera caught the Munster defence napping with a quick tap before breaking for the line and crashing over despite the attention of two defenders.
He was unable to add the conversion, screwing horribly wide from the left of the posts, as Zebre opened up an 8-6 advantage.
Munster came straight back and looked to have forced a crucial advantage when they spun the ball wide and Zebre centre Kameli Ratuvou carried out a spear tackle on Ian Nagle and was sent to cool his heels in the bin.
Hanrahan’s third penalty of the evening made it 9-8 with eight minutes to the break but 14-man Zebre struck back straight away, forging deep into the Munster half.
It appeared they had run into a red wall until Varley was again pinged, this time for a high tackle on Orquera, who made short work of the penalty.
And Zebre’s first ever RaboDirect PRO12 victory looked on the cards shortly before the break when Donnacha Ryan was penalized for a flailing arm at the restart, and Orquera kicked long to set up a series of Zebre attacking phases.
The ball was worked to hooker Andrea Macini who showed a surprising burst of pace to weave past two tacklers including full-back Denis Hurley and touchdown. Orquera made no mistake with the extras and Zebre went in 18-9 ahead.
At the start of the second half Munster introduced James Downey for Andrew Conway and he made an immediate impact, winning a penalty in front of the posts.
Hanrahan made it four kicks from four to reduce the deficit to 18-12, and straight from the restart Munster attacked again, Johne Murphy causing havoc in the Zebre ranks.
A cute inside ball found Hurley who sent No.8 Paddy Butler crashing over the line, Hanrahan restoring Munster’s lead after 46 minutes.
A 51st minute penalty from Hanrahan extended the lead to 22-18 and on the hour they went further ahead, swinging the Zebre defence first left then right where CJ Stander burst through to crash over the line. Hanhrahan inevitably slotted the conversion to make it 29-18 and open up an 11-point gap between the sides.
An Orquera penalty gave Zebre hope but shortly after Stander smashed through two would-be tacklers to score under the posts, Hanrahan keeping up his impeccable spot kicking.
Zebre battled on but Filippo Ferrarini butchered a three-on-one out wide and their best chance of the second half went begging.
With the clock winding down Ian Keatley’s fresh legs proved decisive, the replacement fly-half – on for Hanrahan – ducking his way over under the posts and converting his own score to finish off the game.