MUNSTER had two brilliant Matt Gallagher and Calvin Nash first half tries to thank for a hard-fought Pro14 victory over the Dragons at Rodney Parade on Sunday afternoon.
Johann van Graan’s side were in total control of the tie once they registered their second try after 25 minutes, and they will be frustrated that they were not able to get the fourth try that would have seen them secure the four-try bonus point for their efforts.
Home out-half Sam Davies opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a penalty from straight in front of the Munster posts after early Dragons pressure, but his opposite number JJ Hanrahan levelled matters in the eight minute after some poor discipline from the Welsh side allowed Munster easy possession and territory.
Munster then scored the first try of the game in the 14th minute, with full back Matt Gallagher scoring his first try for the club in the right corner, since his move from Saracens, after being brilliantly put in the clear by openside John Hodnett, although scrum half Craig Casey will take a lot of the credit due to a brilliant sniping break that instigated the move.
Hanrahan added another penalty in the 23rd minute, with Munster being well on top at this stage, with Casey, in particular, orchestrating affairs expertly, and just two minutes later Munster were in for an excellent second try. Gallagher sparked it with a wonderful counter attack from his own 22, after fielding a high Dragons kick, and a few phases later Rory Scannell’s grubber kick got left-wing Darren Sweetnam in behind the Dragons cover down the left hand side, and he was able to pop a simple pass to the supporting right winger Calvin Nash to score.
The Dragons registered their first try in the 34th minute with outhalf Davies touching down after Munster had failed to deal with a speculative penalty advantage chip into their end-goal area, as Munster headed into the break with a deserved 18-8 lead.
The Dragons again were first to score in the second half, in the 47th minute, from another Davies penalty after scrum half Rhodri Williams had milked the opportunity by deliberately passing into the prone Gavin Coombes, who was lying in an offside position on the Newport turf.
Hanrahan cancelled out the score soon after, however, as Munster looked to keep the home side at arm’s length, by ensuring they remained more than one score behind.
Darren Sweetnam then thought he had scored his side’s third try when winning a foot race to touch down, but the move was called back for a Dragons penalty as the Cork man had been just ahead of Hanrahan when the outhalf had hacked through for Sweetnam to chase.
And in the 62nd minute he had another try chalked off due to the fact that replacement No. 8 Jack O’Sullivan had clearly obstructed a Dragons defender, preventing him from tackling the excellent Gallagher in the build up to the disallowed try.
The game had gotten extremely scrappy at this stage, with both sides really struggling to go through the phases. Munster will certainly be unhappy with their second half performance, as they would have fancied their chances of obtaining all five points on offer at the break.
Munster finally managed to string a quality move together in the 72nd minute, when brilliant hands from Casey, Hanrahan and Damian de Allende put Gallagher in the clear to score in the right corner.
The Dragons dominated possession for the closing minutes, however, ensuring that Munster never had a chance to get the bonus point try, and they were awarded when big second row Matthew Screech crashed over from close range in the 79th minute for a consolation try for the home side.
Scorers for Dragons: S. Davies (1 try, 2 pens), Screech (1 try)
Munster: Hanrahan (3 pens, 2 cons), Gallagher (2 tries), Nash (1 try)
Dragons: Lewis; Jenkins, Warren, Roberts, Hewitt; S. Davies, Williams (capt); Griffiths, Keddie, Fry, Screech, J. Davies, Fairbrother, Hibbard, Harris Subs: Shipp for Hibbard (51), Maguire for Harris (63), Jarvis and Basham for Fairbrother and Fry (65), Dixon, Knoyle and Carter for Roberts, Williams, S. Davies (72)
Munster: Gallagher; Nash, Scannell, de Allende, Sweetnam; Hanrahan, Casey; Coombes, Hodnett, O’Donoghue, Holland (capt), Kleyn, Knox, O’Byrne, Wycherley Subs: Cronin, Archer and O’Sullivan for Wycherley, Knox and Coombes (53), Ahern for Kleyn (62), Barron and O’Donnell for O’Byrne and O’Donoghue (66), McCarthy and Flannery for Casey and Sweetnam (73)
Referee: Ben Blain (Scotland).