Wednesday 21 February 2018

Keatley's nerves of steel keep Munster top

Dragons 14 Munster 18

Munster’s Paul O'Connell is tackled by Jason Tovey of Newport Gwent Dragons in the game at Rodney Parade STEVE POPE / SPORTSFILE
Munster’s Paul O'Connell is tackled by Jason Tovey of Newport Gwent Dragons in the game at Rodney Parade STEVE POPE / SPORTSFILE

John Fallon

Ian Keatley was the hero as he landed two late penalties at Rodney Parade to keep Munster flying high at the top of the Pro12 table.

Keatley kicked six from seven in a superb display with the boot as Rob Penney's men came from behind to carve out their second successive win in Wales, having triumphed in Cardiff last week.

This victory was not as impressive and for a long period it seemed they might fall to their second loss of the season, but, in typical fashion, they came good when it mattered most to secure a hard-earned win.

DISJOINTED

There was hardly a try-scoring chance of note created by either side in a disjointed, error-strewn opening half, but Dragons deserved their 6-3 interval lead after enjoying more possession.

Keith Earls returned from the knee injury which kept him out of the autumn internationals and South African winger Gerhard van den Heever made his debut, but had to go off with an arm injury after 66 minutes.

Paul O'Connell, starting only his second league game of the season, gave Munster their best go-forward ball, and their most productive spell of the opening half yielded a penalty in front of the posts for Keatley after 26 minutes.

That score cancelled out a 12th-minute penalty from Jason Tovey, but the Dragons out-half should have doubled that lead six minutes later with another penalty from the right on the '22'.

Tovey was then off target with an ambitious drop-goal attempt four minutes from the break after a sustained bout of pressure from the Welsh. However, the 24-year-old gave Dragons a 6-3 interval lead when he landed an excellent penalty from 45 metres on the left.

It got better for Dragons five minutes after the restart when they got in for a try. They managed to create an overlap inside the Munster '22,' with quick hands from Richie Rees, Tovey and Netani Talei putting Matthew Pewtner over for his first Dragons try four years after making the first of his 11 appearances for his local team.

Tovey missed the conversion from the right and there was a further let-off for Munster after 50 minutes when he missed a penalty from 38 metres.

Felix Jones, after a good break from Earls, came close to getting in for Munster, but he was nailed in the left corner by a clatter of retreating defenders on 52 minutes.

However, Keatley reduced the margin to 11-6 four minutes later when he landed an excellent penalty from 41 metres out on the left.

Munster suffered a blow just after the hour mark when Earls was sin-binned for a high tackle. However, the visitors did not concede when down a man and instead pulled it back to 11-9 with another Keatley penalty, before Dragons lost second-row Cory Hill to a yellow on 68 minutes.

Keatley was unable to punish them further with the resultant penalty from just inside half-way, but he pushed Munster into the lead for the first time seven minutes from the end with a good kick from 38 metres on the right, despite the boos from the unhappy home crowd.

The lead lasted less than two minutes. Dragons went to the left corner with a penalty from halfway, quickly built the phases and set up Tovey for a drop goal in front of the posts from outside the '22' to make it 14-12 with five minutes remaining.

However, Munster dug deep and carved out the victory in the closing minutes, with Keatley landing a superb penalty from just inside his own half to regain the lead two minutes from the end.

And he wrapped up Munster's eighth win campaign with another excellent kick, this time from 35 metres on the right, to ensure the Reds stay top of the league going into the Heineken Cup break.

Munster will await reports on the extent of injuries picked up by hooker Mike Sherry and No.8 James Coughlan, both of whom were withdrawn during the contest.

Dragons – D Evans; W Harries, P Leach, R Wardle, M Pewtner; J Tovey, R Rees (W Evans 79); O Evans (A Coundley 71), S Parry (E Dee 79), F Tetaz Chaparro (D Way 66); C Hill, R Sidoli (M Screech 79); L Evans, N Cudd, N Talei.

Munster – F Jones; G van den Heever (I Dineen 66), K Earls, J Downey, D Hurley; I Keatley, D Williams (C Sheridan 73); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 78), M Sherry (D Varley 46), S Archer (BJ Botha 78); D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (I Nagle 67); B Holland, CJ Stander, J Coughlan (B O'Mahony 51).

Ref – M Mitrea (Italy).

Irish Independent

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