MUNSTER RETURNED TO the top of Conference A of the Guinness PRO14 with an 8-7 victory over the Dragons at a rain-lashed Rodney Parade.
Johan van Graan’s side have been on a fine run of form since their defeat to Ulster before Christmas, but they were given a real scare in Newport as they won by the narrowest of margins.
Jean Kleyn’s try cancelled out a Lloyd Fairbrother effort and Bill Johnston’s penalty responded to a home conversion from Josh Lewis.
Horrendous conditions meant this was never going to be a classic and Munster turned around 7-3 down and with work to do.
Heavy rain and a poor surface meant the kicking battle was vital and the Dragons edged it early on as they forced Munster to spend long periods in their own half. Mike Haley had a clearance blocked by Tyler Moragn and although danger was averted, the hosts were soon ahead.
Lewis kicked to the corner and a driving line-out ended with prop Fairbrother driven over the line a handful of phases later. Fly-half Lewis added the conversion. The weather, if anything, worsened.
Munster hadn’t got going, but they did wake up before the break. Jared Rosser was fortunate to escape a yellow card for upending Johnston, but the Munster out-half did boot a penalty.
The visitors had now woken up and with the clock dead at the end of the first period, Stephen Archer was driven over the line. Referee Ben Blain – on his PRO14 debut – consulted TMO Dave Pearson who could find no clear proof of a score.
Lewis skewed a drop goal effort along the ground when the game resumed. In fairness to him the conditions were hardly ideal to pull off such a skill.
Munster, like the Dragons had before the break, then stamped their mark.
Darren Sweetnam then chased a kick through for Munster though he was unable to get downward pressure on the ball as Will Talbot-Davies got to it first.
It nonetheless gave Munster prime field position where – surprisingly given the weather – they turned down kickable penalties in favour of the corner. Repeated line-out surges saw Matthew Screech sin-binned for dragging down the maul and when the set-piece was reset, Muster somehow contrived to spill the ball with the line gaping. It was wastefulness of the highest order.
Still, Munster were a man up and at last they broke through with Kleyn emerging from a pile of bodies in the corner. His score put Munster ahead for the first time, but Johnston couldn’t convert.
Referee Ben Blain pulls out a yellow card. Source: Alex Davidson/INPHO
Lewis then missed a prime opportunity to put the Dragons back ahead. His penalty skewed wide and simply put it was one he should have kicked.
The final 10 minutes turned into an absolute dogfight. Dragons – who only made on substitution while Munster emptied their bench – attacked relentlessly.
Munster put up the drawbridge as they – and Sweetnam in particular – defended grittily. The home fans meanwhile vented their fury at Blain, but their anger was misplaced.
DRAGONS: J Williams, Rosser, Morgan, Dixon, Talbot-Davies; Lewis, R Williams; Harris, Hibbard, Fairbrother, J Davies (Evans 64), Screech, Keddie, Cudd, Griffiths
Replacements not used: Lawrence, Fawcett, Suter, Basham, R Davies, Tovey, Kirchner
MUNSTER: Haley (Nash 64), Sweetnam, Goggin, Bleyendaal (capt), O’Mahony; Johnston (Taute 64), Mathewson; Loughman (O’Connor 66), Marshall (O’Byrne 59), Archer (Parker 66), Kleyn (O’Shea 71), Holland, Wycherley, Oliver (Coombes 65), Botha
Replacement not used: Cronin
Referee: Ben Blain (SRU)