Thomas Ahern’s last-gasp try spared Munster’s blushes as they fought back from 13-3 down to earn a 13-13 draw in their BKT United Rugby Championship clash at Benetton.
Munster started the campaign with a bonus-point win over Sharks last week but were largely subdued at the Stadio Monigo, where Rhyno Smith’s first-half try looked set to prove the difference.
The defending champions came on strong in the closing stages and although Scott Buckley saw his try chalked off for a knock-on, Ahern bundled over and Joey Carbery’s conversion evened up the scores.
Benetton, who edged out Cardiff by a single point in the Welsh capital in their season-opener, started strongly and got on the board through Jacob Umaga’s penalty after a Munster infringement in the scrum.
Carbery booted Munster level but the visitors were then penalised for offside, allowing Umaga to restore Benetton’s three-point lead inside the first quarter of an hour.
Munster were struggling for rhythm and were grateful for the alertness of Shane Daly, who intervened after fellow full-back Smith’s kick-and-chase attempt left everyone else scrambling backwards.
Benetton continued to hem in Munster in their own half for much of the final quarter of an hour of the half and their persistent pressure was rewarded with three minutes to go until half-time.
It was a simple move with Munster caught on the heels as the ball was spread to the left, with Umaga passing to Smith, who exploited a gap in the away side’s defence to touch down. Umaga added the extras.
Munster attempted to assert themselves after the break but they especially struggled at the lineout and Benetton did not seem to have too much trouble keeping out their opponents.
However, Benetton’s attacking threat dwindled in the final quarter of an hour as they looked to consolidate their position and they coughed up a couple of sloppy penalties to invite Munster forward.
Benetton were then penalised again at the breakdown, with Carbery opting to kick a straightforward penalty with six minutes left to bring Munster to within a converted try.
Now with some impetus, Munster charged up field and Buckley thought he had burrowed over, the hooker was not in control of the ball by the time he crossed the whitewash.
But with time having crept past the regulation 80 minutes, there was no denying Ahern, who tunnelled his way over after several attempts from his team-mates were thwarted by Benetton’s stubborn defence.
Carbery added the conversion as Munster walked away with a share of the spoils.