Munster ...49, Dragons ... 6: Munster gave Rassie Erasmus a rousing send-off in Cork tonight as the director of rugby was treated to a seven-try bonus-point victory to bring down the curtain on his tenure, writes Simon Lewis.
Erasmus is set to make way for fellow South African Johann Van Graan during the upcoming Guinness PRO14 break and while he will stay as long as is required by his successor to assist the transition before departing for a job as South Africa’s director of rugby, this was likely his final game as Munster boss.
A sell-out crowd of 8,008 at Musgrave Park saw his charges, missing a number of frontline stars o Ireland duty, run riot over the sorry Dragons, whose away-day woes continue, man of the match JJ Hanrahan kicking all seven conversions for the home side. Two tries from replacement centre Sam Arnold, capped a four-try second half in a game in which Munster had taken a firm grip on this game by the half-hour mark. That was thanks to tries from Ireland discards Rory Scannell and Simon Zebo, both converted from the left touchline by starting fly-half JJ Hanrahan.
It had been a solid start on a wet evening with intermittent rainfall keeping the ball slick and difficult to handle. Munster dealt with it much the better, South African debutant Chris Cloete making an impressive impact at openside flanker alongside blindside Jack O’Donoghue and No.8 Robin Copeland in the absence of Ireland trio Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell and CJ Stander.
The conditions contributed to a stop-start first half and Munster dominated the resulting set-pieces as Dragons failed to advance into dangerous territory beyond the home 22.
The Welshmen, coached by former Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman, were forced to rely on the boot but a kick upfield from Angus O’Brien was run straight back at them in the 20th minute and the visitors paid a heavy price, the ball running through the hands of wing Darren Sweetnam, released from Ireland camp alongside centre Chris Farrell and replacement fly-half Ian Keatley then full-back Zebo and Hanrahan as Munster rolled into the Dragons final third. Hanrahan’s offload on the 22 found Rory Scannell, who broke two tackles on his way over the tryline.
For all Munster’s dominance and Dragons’ lack of possession, never mind penetration, the Welsh region found themselves just four points behind within four minutes of Scannell’s converted try as referee Mike Bateman penalised the home side at a ruck, Cloete adjudged to have not released the tackled player. O’Brien slotted the penalty and the Dragons were trailing just 7-3 having not yet entered the opposition 22.
Yet Munster were interested in larger increments and another seven points accrued on the half-hour mark as the Reds struck from a lineout on the Dragons 22. Duncan Williams peeled off the maul and Cloete took two defenders into contact before offloading with Zebo scoring through traffic in the left corner. Hanrahan slotted his second conversion of the night from just inside the left touchline to take Munster into a comfortable 14-3 half-time lead.
Dragons opened the second period with another O’Brien penalty but again it was countered by seven more points for the home side, this time some excellent work down the right flank from Copeland who passed inside to Sweetnam. The wing carried from the 22 to five metres and an excellent support run from Jack O’Donoghue saw the flanker carry over for the third try on 45 minutes, Hanrahan maintaining his 100 per cent record off the tee with the conversion from the right touchline.
Munster had the bonus point firmly in their sights with Copeland, having an excellent game, stretching the visitors with a surging run into the 22 before the defence was pulled left to right and back again, Hanrahan eyeing a two-man overlap out left and sending a long pass across to Sweetnam, who touched down for the try bonus point. Hanrahan added the two points from closer in than his previous efforts and Munster were home and hosed at 28-6 with 57 minutes on the board.
It had long been a question of how many points Munster would amass and Hanrahan was again pivotal in adding to the tally, a great show and go to release Arnold for a try under the posts on 64 minutes, five minutes into his first appearance of the season and second in two seasons following a series of injuries. Hanrahan converted his fifth and soon made it six, the latter coming after kicking a penalty to touch, Munster mauling their way from the lineout to another five points, replacement hooker Kevin O’Byrne touching down for his first Munster try.
Munster were forced into a major reshuffle when O’Donoghue hobbled off injured, replaced by last remaining substitute Keatley. It led to Farrell moving from outside centre to No.8 , where his considerable frame did not look out of place.
The rejig did not stop Munster’s march, Arnold grabbing a second as Hanarahan added a seventh conversion for a perfect night.
Munster 49-6 DragonsNovember 3, 2017
MUNSTER: S Zebo; D Sweetnam, C Farrell, R Scannell (S Arnold, 59), A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, D Williams (J Hart, 52); L O’Connor (J Cronin, 49), R Marshall (K O’Byrne, 60), S Archer (B Scott, 66); J Kleyn (D O’Shea, 49), B Holland - captain; J O’Donoghue (I Keatley, 71), C Cloete (M Flanagan, 65), R Copeland.
DRAGONS: W Talbot-Davies; A Hewitt, A Warren, J Dixon (P Howard, 59), J Rosser; A O’Brien (A Robson, 65), C Davies (S Pretorius, 50); T Davies (L Garrett, 49), G Ellis (L Belcher, 45), L Fairbrother (B Harris, 50); J Davies (B Roach, 49; S Andrews, 65)), R Landman; A Wainwright, J Benjamin - captain, J Sheekey.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Meanwhile, Leinster left Scotstoun pointless.
Despite running in three tries they were beaten 31-21 by their hosts, Glasgow.
Your FT stats after a pulsating 80 minutes in Scotstoun! pic.twitter.com/4HYYcMDxpq— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) November 3, 2017