The Munster mid-season recovery moved up another notch in northern Italy when an understrength side showed commendable composure to carve out a bonus point win in Treviso and take another step towards a knockout place in the URC.
Graham Rowntree’s men looked to be in serious trouble when Benetton deservedly opened up a 12-0 lead after less than 13 minutes at Stadio Monigo, but Munster didn’t panic and with John Hodnett leading the way, they worked their way back into the game and dominated the second-half despite being a man down for half of it.
Benetton had only lost once in the league at home all season and looked set for a crucial win in front of a crowd of 4,082 when they struck for two early tries. Centre Marco Zanon finished the first in the left corner after a good break by his partner Filippo Drago after seven minutes.
Argentine winger got the first of his hat-trick five minutes later after full-back Rhyno Smith had made the initial opening in the Munster cover, with Jacob Umaga adding the extras to lead 12-0.
Another score might have put the tie beyond Munster, but they hit back after 17 minutes. Joey Carbery went wide with a pass to Calvin Nash and he chipped into empty space down the right before retrieving it on the bounce to send scrum-half Paddy Patterson through to score.
Carbery added the extras before switching to full-back when Ben Healy came on for the injured Nash and it took an excellent tap-tackle from Carbery on Mattia Bellini to deny the Italians a third try after 27 minutes.
Hodnett’s influence was continuing to make an impact all over the field and he showed great pace to break through and time his offload to Jack O’Sullivan to score under the posts eight minutes from the break.
Carbery’s conversion edged Munster in front for the first time but a penalty from Umaga left Benetton 15-14 ahead at the interval.
A training ground move secured Munster’s third try three minutes after the break when Hodnett went out wide on the left and Liam Coombes set him up after a maul in midfield, and Carbery added the extras to lead 21-15.
Healy was binned for the second week in a row after coming on when he was pinged for a deliberate knock-on as Umaga tried to put hooker Siua Maile through.
Umaga converted the resultant penalty but it was Munster who struck again despite being down a man. They built the phases and worked the ball into the 22 before Jean Kleyn pushed through No.8 Henry Stowers to score and secure the bonus point. Carbery’s fourth conversion made it 28-18 after 50 minutes.
Healy returned but Munster remained down to 14 men when replacement hooker Diarmuid Barron picked up a yellow card for a ruck offence and this time Benetton punished them with Mendy getting his second try in the right corner after they went wide.
Carbery missed his first kick of the day with a 65th minute penalty before a superb crosskick from Healy set up Antoine Frisch for their fifth try and Healy was also the creator to send Carbery over four minutes from time and seal a fine win.
Benetton though pulled back a try bonus point in the final play which could yet prove crucial in the battle for knockout places when Mendy completed his hat-trick in the right corner at the end of a very entertaining game.
Scorers – Benetton: Tries: I Mendy (3), M Zanon. Cons: J Umaga (2). Pens: Umaga (2). Munster: Tries: P Patterson, J O’Sullivan, J Hodnett, J Kleyn, J Carbery, A Frisch. Cons: Carbery (5).
Benetton: R Smith (M Albanese 54-64); I Mendy, M Zanon, F Drago, M Bellini (M Watson 64); J Umaga, D Duvenage (c) (Albanese 73); N Tetaz (T Gallo 47), S Maile (B Bernasconi 55), T Pasquali (F Alongi 64); M Lazzaroni (C Wegner 46), R Favretto; G Pettinelli, A Izekor, H Stowers (A Steyn 51).
Munster: S Daly; C Nash (B Healy 21), A Frisch, M Fekitoa (R Scannell 72, L Coombes (N Scannell 57-64); J Carbery, P Patterson (N Cronin 77); J Wycherley (M Donnelly 72), N Scannell (c) (D Barron 54,), R Salanoa (S Archer 54); J Kleyn (C Hurley 54), F Wycherley; J O'Sullivan (R Quinn 72), J Hodnett, A Kendellen.
Referee: Ben Blain (Scotland).