A Dave Kearney hat-trick along with a try from fellow winger Adam Byrne saw the away team over the line in what was a tough game against a Benetton side that played with only 14-men for the last 30 minutes of the clash.
The reigning champions started well with fly-half Ross Byrne knocking over a three minute penalty.
However, things were only to get better for the visitors ten minutes later as the men in blue spread the ball out wide, where Rory O’Loughlin brilliantly dragged in a couple of defenders before passing to Adam Byrne to touch down. Bryne slotted over the extras and it was 10-0.
The hosts hit back straight away and were in for a try of their own on 20 minutes as Derrick Appiah got over. Former Munster man Ian Keatley kicked the conversion to make it 10-7 tp Leinster.
Five minutes later and the Italian side were in front as hooker Tomas Baravalle barrelled over from a driving maul following a line-out. Again, Keatley was perfect off the tee and suddenly the hosts were 14-0 ahead.
Leinster had the last laugh of the half though despite being under pressure from Benetton for most of the last 15 minutes.
Some great play in the middle of the pitch led to Adam Byrne sending a long pass out to Kearney, who kicked over the top and regathered the ball before driving over the line. After some discussion with the TMO the try was awarded. Byrne converted from the right with the last kick of the half as the Leinster went in with their noses 17-14 in front.
In the second-half it was the hosts that opened the scoring as Keatley took full advantage of a penalty three minutes in.
Benetton were dealt a huge blow in the 49th minute however when winger Ratuva Tavuyara was sent off after colliding with Kearney in the air.
Leinster took little time to make their man advantage count as two minutes later they were in the opposition 22, where Jamison Gibson-Park sent a looping pass over to Kearney on the left-wing. The winger dived over in the corner for his second try of the game, Byrne failed to add the extras leaving the game at 22-17.
Despite being down to 14-men it was Benetton who looked the better side after the try and within two minutes of the hour mark they went ahead courtesy of another Keatley penalty, followed by a try from substitute Luco Sperandio which Keatley converted putting them 27-22 up heading into the final quarter.
With fourteen minutes remaining Leinster were back in front as Kearney got in for his hat-trick in the left-corner after some nice work from the away side in the opposition 22 and securing a bonus-point in the process. Byrne’s fine conversion from the touchline was what nudged Leinster 29-27 ahead.
As the clock ticked towards the final five minutes Leinster got a vital score as Ross Byrne’s younger brother Harry kicked a penalty over to push them five clear of their hosts.
That turned out to be the last score of the game as the reigning back to back champions kick started their campaign with a 32-27 win.
Leinster will look to continue their winning ways when they host the Ospreys on Friday night, while Benetton will hope to get their opening win of the season when they travel to Connacht the following day.
Leinster Player Ratings
Jimmy O’Brien (6), Adam Byrne (7), Rory O’Loughlin (8), Joe Tomane (7), Dave Kearney (9), Ross Byrne (8), Jamison Gibson-Park (7); Peter Dooley (6), Rónan Kelleher (6), Michael Bent (7), Ross Molony (7), Devin Toner (7), Max Deegan (7), Will Connors (6), Caelan Doris (8)
Ulster ring the changes for Munster
There are nine changes to the side that travelled to Leicester last Friday. In the back three, Jacob Stockdale and Ethan McIlroy are retained at full-back and left-wing respectively, with Rob Lyttle coming in to start on the right. Will Addison will make his first start this season at outside centre, partnering up with Stuart McCloskey. Michael Lowry and Alby Mathewson will form the starting half-back partnership.
It’s all-change in the front row, with Andrew Warwick and Tom O’Toole getting the nod at loosehead and tighthead prop, and John Andrew named at hooker. Last week’s second row pairing of Alan O’Connor and Iain Henderson has been retained, and Henderson will lead the side. In the back row, Marcus Rea is named to start at openside flanker with Jordi Murphy making the switch to blindside, and David McCann is selected at Number Eight.
Angus Curtis makes a long-awaited return to the Ulster match-day squad for the first time since he sustained a serious knee injury in December 2019, and is named among the replacements. He is joined by David Shanahan and James Hume in providing back line cover. Wallaby lock Sam Carter is also set for his return to action, and he joins Rob Herring, Callum Reid, Marty Moore and Nick Timoney as the forward options on the bench.
Ulster team to play Munster Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup Round 2, Friday 7 May at Thomond Park (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports):
(15-9) Jacob Stockdale, Rob Lyttle, Will Addison, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Michael Lowry, Alby Mathewson;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, John Andrew, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Jordi Murphy, Marcus Rea, David McCann.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Reid, Marty Moore, Sam Carter, Nick Timoney, David Shanahan, Angus Curtis, James Hume.
Huge boost for Ulster as Henderson & Addison return
Iain Henderson makes his return to lead the side and will be partnered by Kieran Treadwell in the second row. Andrew Warwick comes in to start at loosehead prop, with Tom O’Toole at tighthead and Rob Herring selected to start at hooker. In the back row, Matty Rea comes in at blindside flanker, with Sean Reidy at openside, and Nick Timoney completing the pack at Number Eight.
Jacob Stockdale makes a positional switch to full-back, and will be joined by Ethan McIlroy and Robert Baloucoune in the back three. Stewart Moore will form the midfield partnership with James Hume, and John Cooney and Billy Burns are named as the starting half-backs.
Will Addison is set to make his return from a lengthy spell on the sidelines as he is named among the Ulster back line replacements alongside David Shanahan and Michael Lowry. John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor and Greg Jones are the forward options on the bench.
Ulster team to play Connacht Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup Round 1, Friday 23 April at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports):
(15-9) Jacob Stockdale, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Matty Rea, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Will Addison.
Munster confirm Zebo signing
This co-funded contract will see Munster’s all-time record try-scorer return from Racing 92 and line out for his home club where he made 144 appearances and scored 60 tries between 2010 and 2018.
In his third season with the Top 14 side, the 31-year-old has played 55 times and scored 21 tries to date.
Head Coach Johann van Graan said, “The opportunity to bring Simon back to Munster came about in early April following a final review of our squad’s budgetary position for season-end and with assistance from the IRFU to support what we believe is a really good deal for Munster and Irish Rugby.
“Simon’s desire to return to Ireland and play with his home club is illustrated by his willingness to sign at a level below his market value elsewhere. This has made bringing the province’s all-time leading try-scorer back home, possible.”
Simon Zebo said, “I am thrilled and honoured to be coming back home to play for Munster. My family and I have been so lucky to have enjoyed three incredible years with Racing 92 in Paris and I cannot thank the team there enough, I really have made friends for life and take with me some brilliant memories.
“However, as everyone knows, Munster holds a very special place in my heart and I’ve always said that I wanted to play for them and potentially Ireland again, so when this opportunity arose the lure of being close to home, family and friends and Munster fans, it outweighed all other options. I cannot wait to get back to the HPC with the team and hopefully a packed Thomond Park.”