McGahan hails impact of Munster's new kids on block
Veterans Mick O'Driscoll, Doug Howlett and Alan Quinlan were all among the tries for Munster as they powered their way to a bonus-point win over the Dragons on Saturday night, yet it was fledgling rookies like Conor Murray and Simon Zebo who received much of the post-match commendation.
There was a decidedly youthful look to Tony McGahan's starting XV and especially so at half-back, where 21-year-old Murray was paired with his Garryowen clubmate Declan Cusack, also 21.
And while Cusack had a solid outing in the No 10 shirt, it was the performance of Murray at nine that really caught the eye.
Making his first start at senior level, the Limerick tyro looked assured throughout, bossing his forwards around the park and servicing his backs with wonderfully sweet passing.
"Conor has trained with us a lot over the last 18 months and I thought he came out tonight and controlled things around the ruck with his passing, kicked well and defended very strongly," said McGahan after the final whistle.
"He can certainly be pleased with his efforts this evening."
McGahan also spoke highly of Zebo, a 20-year old winger from Cork Con who fully justified his coach's decision to start him for a second successive game with a strong showing in the.
"You need to give these players some games together instead of one in and one out, and Simon has taken his opportunities really well," said McGahan of the former Ireland U-20 international.
"The last four weeks have been a steep learning curve for him, but he's certainly taken everything in his stride." Others to impress included 21-year-old lock Ian Nagle, who continues to look the real deal in the second row, while Cork Con team-mate Stephen Archer produced one of his best performances in a Munster shirt, locking out the scrum impressively from tighthead.
"These guys are the future," said captain O'Driscoll, who seemed more comfortable talking up the new kids on the block rather than dwelling on his own man-of-the-match award.
"We've got some young guys that have been blooded tonight and over the last couple of weeks, which is brilliant for us going forward.
"People have been talking about us being an ageing squad for the last seven or eight years, but that doesn't matter to us.
"You see the quality coming through at the moment and hopefully people will now start to realise that players are coming through to replace the players that are leaving."
Saturday's result was Munster's fifth bonus-point win of the season, and one in which they achieved with a large degree of comfort.
A first-half brace of tries by Howlett saw them go into the break with an 18-9 lead, and though Dragons captain Steve Jones reduced the deficit with a try of his own directly after half-time, Munster always looked in control and racked up three more tries, one each for O'Driscoll, Quinlan and Johne Murphy.
The long-term league leaders have now accumulated 14 points over their last four games and look odds-on to claim a home semi-final, even if McGahan remained coy about his side's lofty position at the summit of the table.
"We have a really difficult draw coming up with three away trips to Wales, and Leinster and Connacht both at home -- two local derbies. So we have a really tough road home," he said.
"We'll have a couple of days off at the back end of next week to make sure guys are refreshed. We'll then welcome the whole squad back and make a march for the back end of the season."
Munster -- J Murphy; D Howlett, L Mafi, P Warwick, S Zebo (D Barnes 66); D Cusack, C Murray (P Stringer 59); M Horan (W du Preez 52), D Fogarty (D Varley 52), S Archer (T Buckley 54); I Nagle (A Quinlan 61), M O'Driscoll (capt); D Ryan, J Coughlan (T O'Donnell 70), D Leamy.
Dragons -- P Leach; A Hughes, T Riley, A Smith (R Gomer-Davies 21), M Pewtner; J Tovey, W Evans (J Evans 47); H Gustafson, S Jones (capt) (L Burns 55), B Castle; S Morgan (L Evans 47), R Sidoli (A Jones 28); A Coombs, T Faletau, J Bearman.
Ref -- N Paterson.