Indisciplined Munster hold firm
September 3, 2011
Munster centre Lifeimi Mafi was among the try-scorers in Cork on Saturday night
© PA Photos
Munster began the defence of their RaboDirect PRO12 crown with a 20-12 victory over Newport Gwent Dragons at Musgrave Park on Saturday night - despite losing three players to the sin bin during a fractious second half.
It was the visitors who actually opened the scoring in Cork, courtesy of a penalty from fullback Steffan Jones, but they only managed one further score in the opening 40 minutes, through Jason Tovey right on half-time, as Munster went in 17-6 to the good after racking up tries from midfield duo Danny Barnes and Lifeimi Mafi and seven points through the boot of new fly-half Ian Keatley.
A bonus point appeared there for the taking for the province when Dragons prop Ben Castle was yellow carded two minutes after the restart but Munster failed to capitalise and were then reduced to 14 themselves on 51 minutes when try-scorer Mafi was sent to the bin.
Tovey then reduced the Dragons' deficit with a brace of penalties, the first of which saw flanker Peter O'Mahony yellow carded, and the second resulting in replacement front-row Damien Varley joining his team-minute in the bin five minutes later. However, Munster survived a late Dragons onslaught, Keatley sealing victory with a late penalty.
There were some nice early touches from Keatley and Peter Stringer, while a well-executed lineout allowed the Dragons to launch Mike Poole up the left wing. Solid defending and a clutch of errors kept the game scoreless, despite some forceful bursts from the likes of Gavin Thomas and Tom Brown.
Keatley missed a kickable penalty on the quarter hour and it took a monster effort from young fullback Jones to open the scoring for the Dragons. He launched the ball through the posts from just inside his own half, only for Munster to win a penalty from the restart which Keatley popped over to level.
Tony McGahan's men tore through the Dragons defence for a superb try four minutes later. Johne Murphy was sent charging over halfway and although Adam Hughes hauled him down just short of the line, Barnes timed his run perfectly to gather Murphy's pass and score.
Keatley converted and also added the extras to Mafi's 37th minute effort. Billy Holland put Denis Hurley charging away from the tail of a lineout and Mafi was up in support to ghost in behind the posts.
The Dragons, with Jones showing good positional sense, hit back on the stroke of half-time with a close range penalty from Tovey.
The Welshmen lost prop Ben Castle to the sin-bin for not rolling away, two minutes after the resumption, but Keatley drew his 45-metre penalty to the right and wide.
The numbers were evened up briefly when Mafi picked up a yellow card for the same offence as Castle's, amid a spell of defence-dominated play. The Dragons managed to seal off the danger as Doug Howlett broke free on the right, and Tom Willis and his colleagues maintained a high work-rate, particularly at the breakdown.
Although Hughes broke into the Munster 22, Darren Edwards' charges could not get within sight of the whitewash. They had to rely on Tovey's boot, with his brace of penalties clawing the deficit back to 17-12 with 11 minutes remaining.
Munster were down to 13 players at that stage, as stand-in captain O'Mahony and Varley were sin-binned within five minutes of each other for offences at the breakdown. But there was no panicking from the men in red, particularly with James Coughlan and Niall Ronan coming up with some vital plays.
Keatley's 74th-minute kick made the result safe, and Tovey missed a difficult penalty in the dying seconds for a chance to gain a losing bonus point.
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