Munster start Guinness Pro14 season with bonus point win over Dragons

Credit: Munster Rugby (@munsterrugby).

Munster Rugby began the new Guinness Pro14 season in style with a bonus-point 39-9 victory over the Dragons in poor conditions at Thomond Park on Saturday afternoon.

Johann van Graan’s side made an initial slow start to the game, seeing little possession in the first 10 minutes of the fixture. The visitors dominated both possession and territory, but only had a penalty from Sam Davies as reward for their efforts.

The hosts got on the scoreboard in the 17th minute when South African Arno Botha crossed the line for his side’s first try of the new Guinness Pro14 season. JJ Hanrahan converted to give Munster a 7-3 advantage.

Moments later, Davies missed an immediate opportunity to narrow the deficit when Stephen Archer was penalised, but the Welsh kicker failed to convert the penalty effort.

Dragons tendency to be slow in rolling away and often coming in from the side meant they conceded numerous penalties in the scoring zone. A penalty kick from Hanrahan in the 26th minute pushed his side into a 10-3 lead, with the home side now having scored both times they went deep into the Welsh region’s half of the park.

Stephen Archer slip’s during a scrum saw referee Ben Blain blow for a penalty for Dean Ryan’s outfit, and with Davies scoring the second of what would be three successful opening half penalties, Munster’s lead was now only four points, 10-6.

The turning point of the first half saw Dragons’ Richard Hibbard come late and at pace into a tackle on Jack O’Donoghue. Referee Blain spent some time consulting his TMO before coming to the decision to issue a yellow card to the hooker, forcing him to miss the final ten minutes of the first half.

Munster immediately made Dragons pay for the loss of a man when scoring their second try of the afternoon. Waterford’s Jack O’Donoghue touched down in tight circumstances on the line, with the referee needing another consultation with his TMO before confirming the five-pointer. An easy conversion effort from directly in front of the posts allowed Hanrahan extend the lead to 17-6.

Munster made the visitors pay even more when Shane Daly backed himself down the touchline. The Ireland 7s player kicked ahead before sprinting forward to claim another try, the second for van Graan’s side while they had a one-man advantage on the field. This time Hanrahan’s conversion effort from the touchline went right of the posts and wide, leaving Munster 22-6 ahead.

Davies managed to narrow the difference just before the half-time whistle when scoring his third penalty of the opening 40 minutes. The No. 10 kicked from directly in front of the posts, on the Munster 22m line, leaving Munster 22-9 ahead as they headed down to the tunnel for the break.

Half-time score: Munster 22 Dragons 9.

As the weather deteriorated in the second half, the quality of the game followed suit. Munster, who went further ahead through an early JJ Hanrahan penalty kick, were down to 14 men when Mike Haley found himself in the sin bin – the fullback was shown a yellow card for a high challenge on Owen Jenkins, minutes after the re-start.

Munster defended valiantly when down a man as Dragons tried to punish the home side. Van Graan’s men got relief when captain Billy Holland won possession of the ball, putting an end to Welsh hopes of a try. The hosts won the scrum which followed before a Rory Scannell clearance eased the pressure.

Man of the Match Shane Daly almost had his brace when blocking down a slow Ashton Hewitt clearance. Unfortunately for the Corkman, however, the ball went too far ahead and over the dead ball line before the winger could touch down.

Johann van Graan’s men soon achieved the bonus-point try to secure five points from their first league game of the 2019-20 season.

Billy Holland took the Kevin O’Byrne throw-in at the line-out, before centre Rory Scannell made significant progress, eventually allowing his partner in the centre Tyler Bleyendaal cross the whitewash. Another easy Hanrahan conversion pushed van Graan’s outfit out to a 32-9 lead.

As the Munster Rugby Head Coach cleared his bench in the second period, project player Keynan Knox, a Munster Academy player, made his debut, while James Cronin returned from injury and made his first Guinness PRO14 appearance since November last when coming into the front row.

Another Munster Academy man Diarmuid Barron crashed over for the home side’s fifth try of the game, before another successful conversion gave Munster a 39-9 bonus-point victory.

Munster now head to South Africa for their next two games, playing Southern Kings at Nelson Mandela Bay on Saturday next, 5th October (3pm kick-off Irish time), before taking on the Cheetahs at Toyota Stadium the following Friday night, 11th October (kick-off 5.15pm Irish time).

Full time score: Munster 39 Dragons 9

Munster Team:

15. Mike Haley, 14. Darren Sweetnam, 13. Rory Scannell, 12. Tyler Bleyendaal, 11. Shane Daly, 10. JJ Hanrahan, 9. Nick McCarthy.

1. Jeremy Loughman, 2. Kevin O’Byrne, 3. Stephen Archer, 4. Fineen Wycherley, 5. Billy Holland (captain), 6. Jack O’Donoghue, 7. Tommy O’Donnell, 8. Arno Botha.

Munster Replacements:

16. Diarmuid Barron, 17. James Cronin, 18. Keynan Knox, 19. Darren O’Shea, 20. Chris Cloete, 21. Alby Mathewson, 22. Liam Coombes, 23. Jack O’Sullivan.

Dragons Team:

15. Jordan Williams, 14. Ashton Hewitt, 13. Adam Warren, 12. Jack Dixon, 11. Owen Jenkins, 10. Sam Davies, 9. Rhodri Williams (captain).

    1. Brok Harris, 2. Richard Hibbard, 3. Leon Brown, 4. Joe Davies, 5. Matthew Screech, 6. Huw Taylor, 7. Ollie Griffiths, 8. Lewis Evans.

Dragons Replacements:

16. Ellis Shipp, 17. Ryan Bevington, 18. Lloyd Fairbrother, 19. Max Williams, 20. Taine Basham, 21. Tavis Knoyle, 22. Jacob Botica, 23. Tyler Morgan.

Referee: Ben Blain (SRU).



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