Tuesday 11 December 2018

Thirsty Munster's Seven-up adds fizz to the Rassie Erasmus farewell celebration

Munster 49 Dragons 6

Simon Zebo of Munster celebrates after scoring the second try against the Dragons during the Guinness PRO14 Round 8 match between Munster and Dragons at Irish Independent Park in Cork. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Simon Zebo of Munster celebrates after scoring the second try against the Dragons during the Guinness PRO14 Round 8 match between Munster and Dragons at Irish Independent Park in Cork. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Easy pickings for Munster against a Dragons side who remain hopelessly out of their depth at this level of competition.

Seven tries after a forgettable opening quarter - all of them converted by man of the match JJ Hanrahan - restored some sense of optimism after a sticky enough spell of form as Rassie Erasmus prepares to hand over the keys of his office to compatriot Johann van Graan.

It was a special night for some of the fringe players too, not merely Simon Zebo, who continues to thrive on his own personal determination to prove Joe Schmidt was wrong to exclude him from the Irish set-up as he added his second try in a week.

Young Sam Arnold skipped off the bench to nab a brace while replacement hooker Kevin O'Byrne also stuck his name on the honours board with his first try in Munster colours as his side ran riot in the second-half against the feeble Dragons.

It was the least expected of a fixture that had bonus-point territory written all over it, even if Munster made extremely heavy weather of it in the early throes before gradually grinding their opponents into the turf.

Van Graan at least assumes a winning mood as he arrives next week for the relatively quiet November window before the defining December Champions Cup double-header against Leicester.

Munster messed up an early attacking opportunity when Rhys Marshall skewed his throw close-in; moments later he was forced into stoutly defending a successful set-piece as the home side repelled a Dragons' driving maul from their own 22.

JJ Hanrahan was favouring boot to the ball early on but it was a midfield hack that set up their best chance; the out-half's chase forced his opposite number, Angus O'Brien, to carry the ball over the goal-line.

Munster were crumpling the Dragons' scrum but either didn't have the patience – or weren't allowed it by the referee – as a penalty try seemed inevitable; not for the first time, sloppy handling allowed the visitors to scramble clear.

Hanrahan's kick dead when they did get a scrum penalty summed up the underwhelming early fare when Munster's maul appeared to be the only functioning unit. That Dragons could barely go beyond three phases heightened the ennui as a slight dusting of drizzle coated the impatient crowd.

Fifteen seconds into the second quarter, the first quarter's fallow fare was swiftly forgotten when Munster struck for a seven-pointer.

Darren Sweetnam and Zebo lit the touchpaper but Hanrahan sparked the flame, a glorious run, with ball in two hands, evading two tackles before he passed to the onrushing Rory Scannell on the left wing.

The centre still had ground to make up and bodies to avoid but he did both with a competent finish; whatever about the politics of Zebo's Irish omission, the sporting reasons for Scannell's eviction also baffle some supporters.

Angus O'Brien offered brief reprieve with a penalty but by the half-hour Munster were halfway towards their bonus point win.

Chris Cloete has been rarely seen by supporters due to injury but the powerful South African back-rower – brick-built and as wide to the naked eye as he is tall – demonstrated his powerful technique with an almost fetishistic devotion to the clear-out.

A bullocking run, followed by a devilish off-load, displayed skills hewn from the High Veldt and it was from such a move that Zebo opened his account, finishing in the same corner as Scannell with an almost replica sense of his own power and evasion.

Hanrahan had converted both from the wide left touchline yet 14-3 was a reflection of their own inadequacies as much as their opponents, who hadn't won here since 2004.

Munster's attack lacked shape and, even with Zebo popping up at first or second receiver, there was an awful lot of shovelling going on.

Another O'Brien penalty after the restart reminded us the action had resumed with muted fanfare.

The third try, in the 49th minute, alerted the trumpets though. A scintillating, marauding run from Robin Copeland through paper-thin cover bust a huge hole in defence; he fed Sweetnam on the right before swiftly transferring inside to the increasingly influential Jack O'Donoghue.

The bonus was banked by the hour; Munster penetrating in tight metres from the line before inevitable space revealed itself out wide on the left, Hanrahan sourcing it and the available Sweetnam. Hanrahan continued to collect his full house of kicks.

Hanrahan was the provider for the fifth; a timely fillip for replacement Sam Arnold, who would soon add a second try to follow his maiden score.

Kevin O'Byrne plopped over for his first try in red too, re-emerging from the whitewash with half his face blanched white as if still trick or treating.

Against the Dragons, it does feel like swiping candy from a baby.

Munster - S Zebo; D Sweetnam, C Farrell, R Scannell (S Arnold 58), A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, D Williams (J Hart 52); L O'Connor (J Cronin 50), R Marshall (K O'Byrne 61), S Archer (B Scott 67); J Kleyn (D O'Shea 50), B Holland capt; J O'Donoghue (I Keatley 72), C Cloete (M Flanagan 65), R Copeland.

Dragons - W Talbot-Davies; A Hewitt, A Warren, J Dixon (P Howard 59), J Rosser; A O'Brien (A Robson 66), C Davies (S Pretorius 51); T Davies (B Harris 51), G Ellis (L Garrett 46), L Fairbrother (L Belcher 50), J Davies (S Andrews 66), R Landman, A Wainwright, J Benjamin capt, J Sheekey (B Roach 52).

Ref - M Adamson (SRU)

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