Munster trailed 19-5 at the break despite an early try by Paddy Butler.
They produced a rousing comeback with tries from Ronan O’Mahony, C J Stander and Johne Murphy to take the lead in scintillating fashion.
But it did not last long as Dragons rookie Ross Wardle crossed in the closing stages. With Munster’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont Auvergne looming, Rob Penney made sweeping changes with just three players remaining from last week’s defeat to Leinster.
Denis Hurley, Ian Keatley and Damien Varley all held onto their places while academy wing O’Mahony made his Pro12 debut
All three did their chances of involvement in the European encounter little harm and O’Mahony showed plenty of glimpses of his potential.
The wing made several lively breaks in a busy performance and dashed over in the corner for his first try in Munster colours.
The Dragons, with nothing but pride to play for selected the strongest team available. Both Toby Faletau and Dan Lydiate started in the back-row — the flanker’s last match at Rodney Parade before joining Racing Metro. &Tom Prydie booted the Dragons into the lead on 14 minutes after Munster were penalised at the breakdown but Penney’s men quickly responded.
Keatley hit a hanging cross-kick into the corner, which Tonderai Chavhanga failed to deal with and Paddy Butler pounced.
Keatley was unable to stretch Munster’s lead from the tee and Prydie soon nudged the hosts back in front with his second penalty.
Munster continued to threaten in attack but the Dragons stretched their advantage on the counter-attack. Steffan Jones hacked forward some loose ball and although it evaded jet-heeled Chavhanga, it fell to Ross Wardle, who offloaded to Lewis Robling.
Robling was held by the Munster scramble defence, but released Jones to score under the sticks with another sublime offload.
Prydie continued his 100% strike-rate to hand the hosts a commanding 13-5 lead going into the second quarter.
Butler turned from hero to zero as he was sent to the sin-bin for cynically coming in at the side and Prydie duly slotted the points.
Munster’s woes were compounded when Keatley was wide with a penalty attempt.
Garryowen productO’Mahony unlocked the Dragons defence with a lively break and Munster laid siege to the try-line after the debutant was held short.
But the hosts hung on by the skin of their teeth as Munster left empty handed.
The Dragons then punished Keatley’s inaccuracy with the boot and the team’s failure to turn pressure into points as Jones slotted a neat drop goal at the end of the half.
Prydie quickly kicked the scoreboard back into life following the resumption of play as Munster’s indiscipline continued.
But despite staring down the barrel, adrift by 17-points, Munster refused to throw in the towel.
A mammoth touch-finder from Keatley provide the Munster pack with an opportunity to turn the screw and they launched a driving maul. The Dragons dealt with it but Munster hammered away, with Stephen Archer and Danny Barnes coming close to crossing the line.
Munster eventually turned the pressure into points.
After being awarded another penalty they generated quick-ball and O’Mahony touched down in the corner.
Keatley struck the left upright from the touchline but the try had given Munster a glimmer of hope, with the deficit reduced to 12-points.
Resurgent Munster continued to pile on the pressure and the Dragons were dealt a blow when Jones was forced off. That led to a reshuffle with Jonathan Evans moving onto the wing, Lewis Robling to fly-half and Wayne Evans on at scrum-half.
And Munster grabbed a quick fire second try with Stander powering over from a quick-tap at the back of the scrum.
The score sparked an ugly mass brawl and Damien Varley was sent to the sin-bin after Keatley converted.
But once again the Dragons roared back. Faletau made a barnstorming break and released an offload. Play broke down but the damage was done and the ball was spread to Wardle, who broke Munster hearts.
Scorers for Dragons: R Wardle try; S Jones try, drop goal; T Prydie con, 5 pens.
Scorers for Munster: P Butler, R O’Mahony, C J Stander, J Murphy try each; I Keatley 2 cons.
DRAGONS: T Prydie, M Pewtner (A Tuilagi 64), R Wardle, L Robling, T Chavhanga, S Jones (W Evans 64), J Evans, A Coundley (O Evans 59), H Gustafson (S Parry 6-17, 64), N Buck (T Ryan 78), A Coombs (captain), R Sidoli (A Jones 74), D Lydiate, N Cudd, T Faletau.
MUNSTER: D Hurley; R O’Mahony, I Dineen, JJ Hanrahan (D Barnes 51), J Murphy; I Keatley, C Sheridan (D Williams 51); W du Preez (M Horan 69), D Varley, S Archer (J Ryan 37-40, 59); D Foley, B Holland (I Nagle 61); Dave O’Callaghan, N Ronan, P Butler (CJ Stander 61).
Referee: Claudio Blessano (Italy)