DRAGONS FALL JUST SHORT
The Newport Gwent Dragons were unable to get their new Rabodirect Pro 12 season off to a winning start despite a spirited performance against the reigning league champions Munster.
First half tries from Danny Barnes and Lifeimi Mafi saw the Cork-based province take a commanding 17-6 lead at the interval with the Dragons’ points coming through the boot of Steffan Jones and Jason Tovey.
The second half was a much tighter affair with Munster settling for a solitary Ian Keatley penalty, despite two penalties from Jason Tovey the Men of Gwent were unable to breach a stubborn Munster defence who held on to claim the win.
It was the Dragons, missing their world cup stars, who took the lead through the boot of Steffan Jones, the young fullback sent a booming kick between the uprights from well within his own half.
The lead was short-lived however, as Munster drew scores level moments later through Ian Keatley as the visitors were penalised at the resulting kickoff.
Buoyed by their score Munster raised the intensity with the Dragons firmly on the back-foot and were ahead for the first time in the game through Danny Barnes following a fine solo run by Johne Murphy.
Murphy found space in the centre of the park and raced up-field, with the line in-sight he was brought down just short by a superb Adam Hughes’ tackle. However, Hughes was unable to prevent the offload which was gratefully received by Danny Barnes who faced a clear path to the line.
Munster continued to press and were further rewarded with a Lifeimi Mafi try on 36 minutes. The powerful centre touched-down following a long Munster throw in to Billy Holland who gave a neat pass to Denis Hurley before the fullback sent Mafi in for his score. Keatley converted to extend the lead to 17-3.
The Dragons looked to close the gap in the closing minutes of the half and were rewarded with three points thanks to a Jason Tovey penalty leaving the scores at 17-6 heading into the interval.
As the second half got under way the Dragons endured the worst possible start as prop Ben Castle was sin-binned, Keatley saw his effort to add the resulting penalty sail just wide.
Munster continued to press but were unable to take advantage of their extra man as both sides remained deadlocked. It was then Munster’s turn to find themselves a man down after Peter O'Mahony was sin-binned for persistent offences at the breakdown.
It took until the 60th minute to see the next score of the game, Munster again were penalised at the breakdown and Mafi saw yellow for not releasing, Tovey slotted an easy penalty as the Dragons closed the gap.
The score sparked the Dragons into life as they looked to exploit the extra man advantage and put together a period of concerted pressure but were unable to breach the red wall of the Munster defence.
The Dragons managed to close the gap further after replacement hooker Damien Varley was the third Munster player to see yellow as he was penalised for a slap at the scrum. Tovey duly added the penalty putting the visitors in losing bonus point territory with scores at 17-12.
Despite the two-man advantage the Dragons were unable to add to their score and an Ian Keatley penalty put the game out of sight for the visitors.
Tovey did have the chance to claim the bonus point in the final minute of the game, the very least the Dragons deserved, but he was unable to maintain his 100 per cent kicking record. Munster cleared the ball off the park and referee Stefano Penne brought the end to a frustrating evening for the Dragons.
Munster: Johne Murphy; Doug Howlett, Danny Barnes, Lifeimi Mafi, Denis Hurley; Ian Keatley, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Mick O'Driscoll, Peter O'Mahony, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Simon Zebo for Hurley 62, Duncan Williams for Stringer 62, Wian Du Preez for Horan 47, Damien Varley for Sherry 57, John Hayes for Archer 67
Not used: Dave Foley, Tommy O'Donnell, Scott Deasy.
Newport Gwent Dragons: Steffan Jones; Adam Hughes, Tom Riley, Ashley Smith, Mike Poole; Jason Tovey, Joe Bedford; Phil Price, Tom Willis, Ben Castle, Adam Jones, Robert Sidoli, Andrew Coombs, Gavin Thomas, Tom Brown.
Replacements: Martyn Thomas for S Jones 65, Pat Leach for Smith 39, Dan Way for Castle 52, Hugo Ellis for Brown 43.
Not used: Rhys Buckley, Nathan Williams, Jevon Groves, Wayne Evans.
Referee: Stefano Penne (FIR)