'Concern' at Reds' away form as O'Gara fails to make case
NG Dragons 31
For a team of such character, this was a distinctly uncharacteristic display, and one that leaves the defending Magners League champions in danger of surrendering their title.
Tim O'Donnell and Tony Buckley added touchdowns to a penalty try but there was little else to enjoy and plenty to be concerned about for Munster as the race for the play-offs enters the final straight.
Munster's veterans were ruffled by Newport's rookies to the extent they were twice ticked off for dissent and were even out-scored when their hosts were reduced to 14 men. Even more uncharacteristic were the three misses from five attempts at goal by Ronan O'Gara in an anonymous display that will hardly have helped his claim for the Ireland No 10 jersey against Wales on Saturday.
After the game Munster flanker Alan Quinlan was keen not to single anyone out. "There is always pressure on the kicker but we didn't lose the game because of that," said Quinlan. "No-one is blaming Ronan, as a team we made far too many mistakes. It's not about individuals, the whole team played badly.
"We're very disappointed, especially with the second-half performance. We didn't create enough chances, we made far too many mistakes and they capitalised on them.
"We played around with the ball too much in the second half. When you're away from home, you need to play territory and we didn't do that."
It looked set to be a different story when Doug Howlett appeared to have scored after 10 minutes only for the video official to rule against Munster. After conceding a try to Aled Brew against the run of play, Munster's response was swift when they were awarded a penalty try as the Dragons forwards caved under pressure from a scrum, to level 7-7.
However, two penalties, one of which led to Lifeimi Mafi being shown a yellow card, opened the door for Newport to seize the initiative either side of half-time.
"We were disappointed not to be awarded the early try," said Quinlan. "It looked a perfectly good try but perhaps the cameras didn't show that.
"We conceded two penalties just before half-time and that gave the Dragons a big lift. They got a try early in the second half and after that we were playing catch-up. We started to panic when we were behind."
Denis Fogarty's break was finished by O'Donnell, who suffered a shoulder injury minutes later, to keep Munster in touch but O'Gara's missed kicks and a series of handling errors allowed Tovey to steer the Dragons clear.
The defeat was Munster's sixth in seven away games in the league. The one success came against the Scarlets, who they face next. Two games on the road remain, against Connacht and at Cardiff Blues.
"We're concerned with our away form," admitted Quinlan. "With our success in Europe, teams are going to lift their game against us and never take us lightly.
"We're still up there with a chance of making the play-offs but this was an uncharacteristic Munster performance. We will have to take a good look at the tapes and make sure we bounce back."
NG Dragons: M Thomas; W Harries, M Watkins, A Smith, Al Brew; J Tovey (J Arlidge 79), W Evans (yc 57-67); H Gustafson, T Willis (capt), B Castle (P Palmer 54, B Castle 79); A Jones (R Sidoli h/t), L Charteris ; D Lydiate, L Evans, G Thomas.
Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, L Mafi (yc 39-49), J de Villiers (S Deasy 79), D Hurley; R O'Gara, P Stringer (D Williams 70); M Horan (J Brugnaut 69), D Fogarty (D Varley 63), T Buckley; M O'Driscoll (capt), B Holland; A Quinlan, J Coughlan, T O'Donnell (N Williams 49).
REF -- D Phillips (IRFU).