MUNSTER scored four tries in a second-half performance of substance at Musgrave Park last night to boost their Magners League winning run to three successive matches.
Helped by a hat-trick from number eight Nick Williams, Munster powered home to secure a welcome bonus-point victory, against a Dragons side that lost the competitive edge in the face of a severe beating in the set pieces.
The timing – six days in advance of a rematch with Heineken Cup champions Leinster at the RDS, could hardly have been better. Coach Tony McGahan admitted as much when he lavished praise on Williams, Tony Buckley and others in a pack whose influence grew as the game progressed.
On a night when South African star Jean de Villiers enjoyed a solid debut, McGahan reflected happily on the outcome and on the news Jerry Flannery successfully came through 40 minutes of rugby with Shannon over the weekend.
“It’s nice to know people are becoming available after injury, and I suppose 40 minutes will put Jerry back in the selection mix for the coming weekend,” he said.
McGahan also had words of praise for Tomas O’Leary, who was an influential figure in last night’s game in just his second game back after breaking his ankle.
“It’s remarkable that he is playing rugby at this stage of the season, and the way he’s playing it, after the injury he sustained,” added McGahan.
If there is a concern right now in the Munster camp, it relates to the withdrawal of Keith Earls from last night’s team due to illness, but assuming he recovers he will surely be given a run on Saturday to allow him push for a Heineken Cup place.
Another more pressing worry though, admitted McGahan, is the frequency in which Munster are picking up yellow cards.
“There have been a lot of yellow cards in the Magners League and we have been guilty of some; we need to really make better decisions at the breakdown, it’s a bone of contention at this stage.
“All of our play at the moment is work in progress and we need to be smarter, there are certain things we need to switch onto during games and we must recognise that there is no point in chasing possession at dead rucks.”
In relation to last night’s game where such problems didn’t arise at ruck time, it still took an age for Munster to wind up to something approaching full throttle and indeed for either side to create scoring chances; the first fell to the Dragons when substitute Doug Howlett had to be sharp to get back and touch down after a menacing run from Ashley Smith.
Ronan O’Gara missed a long-range penalty attempt in 30 minutes and Munster failed to capitalise on a searing break involving Jean de Villiers, Nick Williams and Howlett shortly after.
MUNSTER’S dominance in the scrums manifested itself just before the break, however, with the Dragons’ front row penalised and O’Gara made no mistake at the second time of asking.
The lead was short-lived with James Arlidge knocking over a penalty from near halfway, before coming close to giving his side the lead with a late drop goal attempt that was denied only after referee Neil Patterson sought video advice.
Williams provided Munster with an early second-half boost when he dived in to score from a scrum close in; Williams got the scoring credit but the power of the front row was crucial and the delighted number eight afterwards gave full credit to the men in front: “In fact, the whole front five were superb in my view,” he said.
It got much easier for Munster from there, and Williams grabbed his second try with an assist from O’Leary after 18 minutes, the scrum-half adding the conversion as O’Gara was in the sin-bin along with Dragons’ Shaun Connor.
A brilliant try from Howlett seven minutes later was also converted by O’Leary as Munster pushed the lead out to 22-3 and closed in on a bonus-point victory.
They secured that when Williams took a close-range penalty quickly and he charged over for the fourth try; seconds later he was, not surprisingly, named man of the match, although he would have had to fight off the challenge from O’Leary, from any of the starting front row forwards or Mick O’Driscoll, whose influence in that powerful second half display was huge.
MUNSTER: F Jones, B Murphy, L Mafi, J de Villiers, D Hurley, R O’Gara (captain), T O’Leary, M Horan, D Fogarty, T Buckley, D O’Callaghan, M O’Driscoll, A Quinlan, N Williams, T O’Donnell.
Replacements: D Howlett for Murphy (injured, 8), D Ryan for Quinlan (34), D Varley for Fogarty (60), J Coughlan for O’Donnell (62), T Morland for O’Leary (63), J Manning for Jones (78).
DRAGONS: M Thomas, A Brew, T Riley, A Smith (captain), R Fussell, J Arlidge, W Evans, H Gustafson, S Jones, N Hall, A Jones, R Sidoli, D Lydiate, J Bearman, J Harris.
Replacements: S Connor for Smith (injured, 47), A McKenzie for Gustafson, G Robinson for Hall, D Lee for Evans (all 58), D Goodfield for Jones (60), G Webb for Lydiate (70) Temporary Webb for Lydiate (14-28), Connor for M Thomas (13-20).
Referee: N. Patterson (Scotland).
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