Dragons too hot for Munster
Dragons 20 Munster 6
Munster eventually ran out of steam last night as they fell to an unexpected defeat against Newport Gwent Dragons in Wales.
The Dragons are never easily beaten on their home patch at Rodney Parade, but the result was nevertheless surprising given Munster's recent string of victories over Ulster, Llanelli and Australia.
In the end, they were undone by two first-half tries as they struggled to find the intensity they had shown in previous matches this month. A late change of referee hardly helped their cause. Italian official Alan Falzone was held up in the snow and replaced at the eleventh hour by Welsh stand-in David Bodilly.
He sent two Munster players to the bin in the first half, and seemed to come down harshly on Munster at the breakdown.
In fairness to Munster forward James Coughlan, he refused to use the ref as an excuse, commenting: "A ref is a ref, it was the same for both sides. We always say that you need to control what you can control, and the ref isn't one of those things."
The first half was an unmitigated disaster for Munster, who only registered their first points in the 39th minute. Before that, they lost both Sammy Tuitupou and Coughlan to the bin and conceded two tries as Newport strung together their best half of rugby this season.
With treacherous underfoot conditions, Munster struggled in contact and were frequently penalised and turned over. The Dragons passed up three early opportunities for points when Jason Tovey went wide with successive penalty attempts, and then declined another from kickable range.
But they eventually broke the deadlock in the 22nd minute, capitalising on a midfield turnover and stretching the visiting defence just enough for Tom Riley to find a gap and dart home. Tovey converted and Munster knew they were up against it shortly after when Tuitupou was binned for a late tackle.
The Dragons came on strong with their one-man advantage, and Gavin Thomas looked to be in for a try only to be denied by a last-ditch tackle from Tomás O'Leary. Undeterred, Thomas rumbled again and this time he scored. Tovey again converted and Coughlan inexplicably found himself sitting with Tuitupou in the bin.
Warwick gave them a glimmer of hope but his late penalty attempt was cancelled out immediately by Tovey, and the Welsh region led 17-3 at half-time.
Munster started the second half brightly and Warwick reduced the deficit with a penalty two minutes in.
Dragons captain Tom Willis was then binned for hands in the ruck as Munster finally applied some pressure, but they were prevented from capitalising when the referee bizarrely pinged them for a slow line-out put-in five metres out.
It was the home side who continued to ask the more serious questions, though Barry Murphy almost intercepted a pass in his own half, which could have taken him clear. Tovey responded by dropping over a goal to put further daylight between the sides.
Munster probably deserved a try for their efforts late on and almost got one when Scott Deasy made a superb break but he was caught short and the chance disappeared, and with it any hopes of a comeback.
For Munster coach Tony McGahan, thoughts now turn to next Saturday's clash against Cardiff, their last run-out before the very serious business of a Heineken Cup double-header against the Ospreys.
"We've had about 20 players missing for the last number of months so integrating everybody back into the fold is going to be a big challenge," he said.
Munster -- S Deasy; D Howlett (capt), B Murphy, S Tuitupou (T Gleeson 72), D Hurley (L Mafi 56); P Warwick, T O'Leary (C Murray 75); D Ryan (W du Preez 41), M Sherry (S Henry 62), J Hayes (P Borlase 41); B Holland, I Nagle (B Hayes 75) ; T O'Donnell (P O'Mahony 55), N Ronan, J Coughlan.
Dragons -- P Leach; A Hughes, T Riley, A Smith, A Brew; J Tovey, W Evans; P Price, T Willis (L Burns 74), N Hall; L Charteris, R Sidoli (A Jones 61); L Evans (L Burns 53-63), G Thomas, T Faletau.
Ref -- David Bodilly (WRU)