There are few occasions when a team so dominant in the scrum as to win a penalty try still end up losing. Yet that is exactly what Munster managed at Rodney Parade.
The Celtic champions capitulated to a Newport Gwent Dragons team that was over-powered in the scrum and out-thought in the lineout yet still possessed the hunger and will to win this match with room to spare.
Uncharacteristically, the defeat was Munster’s sixth in seven away games in the league. Even more uncharacteristic were the three misses from five attempts at goal by Ronan O’Gara in a display that will hardly have helped his claim for the Ireland number 10 jersey against Wales on Saturday.
A disappointed Alan Quinlan explained: “There is always pressure on the kicker but we didn’t lose the game because of that. No one is blaming Ronan, as a team we made far too many mistakes. It’s not about individuals, the whole team played badly.
“We’re concerned with our away form. With our success in Europe, teams are going to lift their game against us and never take us lightly. That’s something we have to deal with. We were in this game at half-time but it was a poor second-half performance, we made too many errors and didn’t play territory. That’s what you have to do away from home.
“We’re still up there with a chance of making the play-offs but this was an uncharacteristic Munster performance. We will have to take a good look at the tapes and make sure we bounce back.”
It was an eventful opening as Munster made a positive start. Howlett went over for a touchdown on the right only for it to be ruled out by the video ref for a knock-on. Then O’Gara hit the post with a straightforward penalty.
The let-offs allowed the Dragons to ease the pressure and, after gaining some territorial advantage, wing Aled Brew scored a blistering try. Outside-half Jason Tovey converted but the lead did not last long as the home scrum cracked on their line to concede a penalty try that gave O’Gara a simple conversion.
The tide turned, however, when the Welsh region gained significant territory. The mistakes came from Munster towards half-time, allowing Tovey to boot two penalties and give his side a six-point advantage at the break.
Munster’s experienced back-line were ruffled by the rookies in the home team and when both sides were reduced to 14 men, on separate occasions, the Dragons out-scored Munster 18-3.
To add further headaches to Irishmen’s troubles, centre Lifeimi Mafi was sin-binned for answering back referee Dudley Phillips.
And the Dragons took advantage for wing Will Harries who went over under the posts, only for that to be erased when flanker Tommy O’Donnell was on the end of a passing movement.
Munster’s chances of claiming that top spot took a turn for the worse when a quick movement across midfield allowed full-back Martyn Thomas to get a third home touchdown.
They may have had the bonus point fourth try when Harries ran 70 metres from his own line but the resultant Tovey penalty in front of the posts sealed the result. Prop Tony Buckley’s consolation converted try for Munster at the end was meaningless.
A frustrated Quinlan concluded: “It was one of those frustrating nights. We didn’t capitalise when they were down to 14 men, which is something we must look at.
We played around with the ball too much in the second-half. When you’re away from home, you need to play territory and we didn’t do that.”
Scorers for Dragons: Tries – A Brew, W Harries, M Thomas. Cons – J Tovey (2). Pens – J Tovey (4).
NG DRAGONS: M Thomas, W Harries, M Watkins, A Smith, Al Brew; J Tovey (J Arlidge, 79), W Evans; H Gustafson, T Willis (capt), B Castle (P Palmer, 54, B Castle, 79), A Jones (R Sidoli, H-T), L Charteris , D Lydiate, L Evans, G Thomas.
Scorers for Munster: Tries – Penalty, T O’Donnell, T Buckley. Cons – R O’Gara (2). Pen – R O’Gara.
MUNSTER: P Warwick; D Howlett, L Mafi, J de Villiers (S Deasy, 79), D Hurley; R O’Gara, P Stringer (D Williams, 70); M Horan (J Brugnaut, 69), D Fogarty (D Varley, 63), T Buckley; M O’Driscoll (capt), B Holland; A Quinlan, J Coughlan, T O’Donnell (N Williams, 49).
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland).