Munster head coach Johann van Graan reserved special praise for his young players and the experience of scrum-half Alby Mathewson after his team survived a big scare in Newport.
In the end the Dragons were vanquished by the narrowest of margins at a rain-lashed Rodney Parade as Van Graan saw his tight five produce the goods when it mattered most.
Munster moved back to the top of Conference A in the Guinness PRO14 in the process as Jean Kleyn’s crucial second-half try followed a penalty from Bill Johnston.
Van Graan was a happy man and he picked out Mathewson’s game management as crucial.
He said: “We knew this block would be massive. We’ve qualified for the Champions Cup quarter-finals and we’re now back top of our conference so the guys will take a well-deserved break now to recharge their batteries.
“I want to make a special mention for the whole squad.I made 13 changes and all of them were enforced with the Ireland players in camp and a few injuries too. We knew we would have problems with cohesion, but in these periods you need everyone to get you a result and it was fantastic to get a lot of guys like Bill some game time. They are the future of Munster. Scrum and line-out wise I’ll take that performance any day of the week. It was a tough game. but our composure in the last 10 minutes was excellent and Alby was superb in controlling the game.” The 80 minutes in Newport was dominated by driving rain and it meant the game – unsurprisingly – turned into a kicking and set-piece battle.
Dragons actually started the better and led at the break 7-3. Prop Lloyd Fairbrother was driven over for a try which Josh Lewis improved.
Munster’s only response was a three-point effort from Johnston which came from his team’s first real visit to the opposition 22.
Stephen Archer had a try ruled out by the TMO before the break, but afterwards Munster took control. Their tight five were exceptional, grinding the Dragons down and a series of line-out surges forced home lock Matthew Screech into sacking a driving maul illegally. He was yellow carded.
After a series of near misses, finally the try came when lock Kleyn powered over. Johnston couldn’t kick the goal, but it proved enough for victory. There was still time for one more scare as Dragons out-half Lewis stepped up for a late penalty. His kick drifted wide in tricky conditions.
It meant Munster survived and while the home crowd directed their anger at referee Ben Blain – who was making his PRO14 debut – it was misplaced.
Blain repeatedly penalised the Dragons in the tight, but he was right to do so because the men in red had the upper hand there.
“We are very happy with the win,” Van Graan continued. “We decided to just stay down in the Dragons half, we kept pushing and pushing, and we got our rewards. They got a yellow card and conceded five penalties in a row. That won us the game.”
Scorers for Dragons: Try: Fairbrother 14 Con: Lewis 15.
Scorers for Munster: Try: Kleyn 63 Pen: Johnston 30.
DRAGONS: J Williams, Rosser, Morgan, Dixon, Talbot-Davies; Lewis, R Williams; Harris, Hibbard, Fairbrother, J Davies (Evans 64), Screech, Keddie, Cudd, Griffiths.
Replacements not used: Lawrence, Fawcett, Suter, Basham, R Davies, Tovey, Kirchner.
MUNSTER: Haley (Nash 64), Sweetnam, Goggin, Bleyendaal (capt), O’Mahony; Johnston (Taute 64), Mathewson; Loughman (O’Connor 66), Marshall (O’Byrne 59), Archer (Parker 66), Kleyn (O’Shea 71), Holland, Wycherley, Oliver (Coombes 65), Botha Replacement not used: Cronin.
Referee: Ben Blain (SRU)