Munster double centurion Mick O’Driscoll reckons Saturday’s victory over Newport Gwent Dragons was crucial to Red Army’s Pro12 hopes.
The 33-year-old lock made his landmark 200th appearance for the province as Munster claimed a first triumph at Rodney Parade since 2009, thanks to an emphatic second-half comeback.
They trailed in the final quarter following a first-half try from Ashley Smith for the hosts. But Ian Keatley kept Munster in touch at 14-9 before Luke O’Dea and Felix Jones pounced in less than 10 minutes to maintain the 100% start to 2012.
O’Driscoll was delighted to become the eighth player to reach the milestone but insists maintaining Munster’s hopes of retaining the Celtic crown was of far greater importance.
“200 is a just a number. I’m happy with the achievement and I’m still fit and enjoying my rugby at 33.
“But this game wasn’t about me, it was all about winning a game at a ground that has proved to be a difficult place for us to come and play in recent years.”
Keatley opened the scoring for Munster inside two minutes but rookie fly-half Lewis Robling levelled for the Dragons as the hosts began to dominate.
The Dragons surged into a commanding lead midway through the half thanks to Smith’s try. Former South Africa international Tonderai Chavhanga produced the opening to release Will Harries who fed Smith to crash over.
Robling failed to convert and Keatley expertly chipped away at the Dragons lead with quick-fire penalties before the break.
But Tony McGahan’s charges displayed their champion spirit and began to fight back. But they were undone when Tomás O’Leary was sent to the sin-bin for failing to release.
Robling duly stretched the hosts’ lead to 14-9 but Munster quickly tied the scores. Super-sub Denis Hurly burst through the Dragons defence and Scott Deasy fired a pin-point miss pass to O’Dea to squeeze in the corner on 67 minutes.
Deasy failed to convert but Munster secured the victory thanks to a breakaway try from full-back Jones. He latched onto a loose pass from Lewis Evans to scorch half the pitch and touchdown beneath the posts.
The focus now shifts to next week’s clash with Aironi and O’Driscoll but they will be sweating on the fitness of Dave Foley, who suffered a suspected dislocated shoulder.
“Our aim was to win all four of the games in this block during the Six Nations to build confidence and that is three of them won with Aironi away to come,” said O’Driscoll.
“If we can win in Italy, we can start to think about putting pressure on Leinster for the top spot. We have to play them at Thomond Park after the Aironi game and that game is going to be an eight pointer.
“We still believe we can catch them and all we can do is try to keep the pressure on them and see what happens.”
Scorers for Newport Gwent Dragons: Try: A Smith. Pens: L Robling (three).
Scorers for Munster: Tries: O’Dea, Jones. Con: Deasy. Pens: Keatley (three), Deasy.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: W Harries; T Chavhanga, A Tuilagi, A Smith (capt), A Brew; L Robling, W Evans; N Williams, S Jones, N Buck, L Charteris, R Sidoli, J Groves, L Evans, T Brown.
Replacements: J Dixon for Tuilagi (46), D Way for Buck (52), P Price for Williams (54), S Parry for S Jones (75).
MUNSTER: F Jones; L O’Dea, S Tokula, L Mafi, J Murphy; I Keatley, T O’Leary; M Horan, D Fogarty, S Archer; D Foley, M O’Driscoll; Dave O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.
Replacements: D Hurley for Murphy (56), S Deasy for Keatley (53), W Du Preez for Horan (53), BJ Botha for Archer (56), B Holland for Foley (56).
Yellow card: T O’Leary (57).
Referee: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
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