Dragons defeated at soggy Thomond
Dragons suffered defeat in the opening game of the new Guinness PRO14 season as powerful Munster took maximum points at a sodden Thomond Park.
Dean Ryan’s men impressed in the opening half hour in Limerick before two quick-fire tries just before the break – with Richard Hibbard in the sin bin – saw the hosts pull clear.
Munster – who went into the game 17 matches unbeaten in the league on home soil – were also a man down after the break for a high tackle but held out under huge visiting pressure.
And it proved vital as late tries from Tyler Bleyendaal and Dairmuid Barron wrapped up the bonus point for the clinical Irish province.
The opening day of the campaign had always looked a tough assignment up against a Munster side who made the play-off semi-finals last season.
The Irishmen had also not tasted defeat at Thomond Park since December 2017.
However, in tricky conditions, Dragons controlled long spells of the first half and went close repeatedly in the second only to leave empty handed.
Dragons Director of Rugby Ryan, taking charge of his first PRO14 game, handed debuts to fly half Sam Davies and wing Owen Jenkins.
And orchestrator Davies was soon in involved as he slotted a third minute penalty after Munster failed to roll away in the tackle.
Under moody grey skies, Ryan’s men were bright in the opening exchanges and with a firm breeze to their backs looked to pin Munster back with Rhodri Williams and Jordan Williams finding gaps.
The rain was incessant and made handling difficult for both teams. But when Munster did threaten for a first time they were ruthlessly efficient as Number Eight Arno Botha dived over bodies to score from close range.
Davies saw a long-range penalty drop wide as Dragons pushed for a response in the driving rain while JJ Hanrahan was on target to extend the lead on 25 minutes.
A big scrum, with Leon Brown prominent, won a visitors a penalty on 29 minutes and Davies made no mistake from the kicking tee this time.
However, within minutes, a huge turning point arrived as the TMO was called into action to judge on a tackle from Hibbard on halfway.
Referee Ben Blain was to hand a yellow to the hooker and Munster made the extra man count. Back row O’Donoghue burrowed over from close range before Shane Daly collected his own neat chip ahead to dot down and send the home side clear.
Hanrahan nudged Munster further ahead two minutes after the restart before the hosts were this time reduced to 14 men after TMO consultation – full back Mike Haley this time yellow carded for a high tackle.
Dragons duly enjoyed a spell of huge pressure, with repeated five-metre lineouts that Munster did well repel before forcing a turnover to huge home cheers.
Back up to a full-numbers soon after, Munster were on the front foot as Daly caused hearts in mouth when he charged down Hewitt’s clearing kick only to see the ball ran dead.
A blooded Hewitt, with a nasty cut, was replaced by debutant Jacob Botica before Munster wrapped up the bonus point, centre Bleyendaal going under the posts after a dart from midfield partner Scannell.
Late gloss was applied to the score line courtesy of replacement Dairmuid Barron as he bulldozed over in the final minute to complete the scoring.
03m Davies p 0-3
17m Botha t Hanrahan c 7-3
25m Hanrahan p 10-3
29m Davies p 10-6
33m O’Donoghue t Hanrahan c 17-6
36m Daly t 22-6
39m Davies p 22-9
43m Hanrahan p 25-9
61m Bleyendaal t Hanrahan c 32-9
79m Barron t Hanrahan c 39-9
Dragons: Jordan Williams, Ashton Hewitt (Botica 61), Adam Warren, Jack Dixon (Morgan 15), Owen Jenkins (Shipp 34-40), Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams (Knoyle 72); Brok Harris (Bevington 56), Richard Hibbard, Leon Brown (Fairbrother 65), Joe Davies (M. Williams 67), Matthew Screech, Huw Taylor (Basham 71), Ollie Griffiths (Shipp 72), Lewis Evans
Replacements: Ellis Shipp, Ryan Bevington, Lloyd Fairbrother, Max Williams, Taine Basham, Tavis Knoyle, Jacob Botica, Tyler Morgan
Munster: Mike Haley; Darren Sweetnam, Rory Scannell, Tyler Bleyendaal (Coombes 63), Shane Daly; JJ Hanrahan, Nick McCarthy (Mathewson 62); Jeremy Loughman (Cronin 62), Kevin O’Byrne (Barron 72), Stephen Archer (Knox 66); Fineen Wycherley, Billy Holland (O’Shea 66); Jack O’Donoghue (O’Sullivan 72), Tommy O’Donnell (Cloete 66), Arno Botha
Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, James Cronin, Keynan Knox, Darren O’Shea, Chris Cloete, Alby Mathewson, Liam Coombes, Jack O’Sullivan.
Referee: Ben Blain (SRU)