Dragons 23 Munster 17
A frustrating game to watch, Munster, inspired by outhalf Ben Healy, rose to the Dragons late in the first half but couldn’t regain the briefest spell of dominance they had in a two-try scoring phase in the final five minutes of the half.
On another day their three-point, 40-minute lead might have been enough to hold out but had Munster managed to do that, it would have been a tough defeat for the home side, who defended strongly and made the most of their few opportunities.
A lack of any threatening shape and committing too many errors deprived Munster of any sharp attacking edge that could sustain pressure on Dragons or hold the ball long enough to gain territory.
Errors at the lineout as well as first half knock-ons from Tadhg Beirne and Mike Haley and a high tackle from Stephen Archer framed a Munster side at odds with itself as Hanrahan kicked to 3-3, 6-3, 9-3 and finally five kicks from five on 35 minutes for 15-3 after Munster failed to release.
At that stage Peter O’Mahony was likely thinking about a half-time rescue plan and a regroup. But then Healy stood up. A beautiful hard flat pass sent Simon Zebo up the left touchline only to be high enough tackled by Rio Dyer to earn him a yellow card.
The ever urgent Craig Casey took a quick tap penalty and attacked the disorganised Dragons line, sending Stephen Archer over from a few yards out, Healy converting for 15-10.
This was Munster’s creative phase and how quickly it passed. A minute later Healy was kicking to touch for an attacking lineout. The secured ball was mauled towards the line and again the lively Casey triggered the decisive move.
Peeling away on the side Dwyer would have been, the Munster scrumhalf straightened up, landing the ball into Healy’s hands for a textbook second try. It seemed so easy and within five minutes Munster’s woes had turned into a 15-17 halftime lead.
But what might have been the Munster launch pad was their high point. As the match turned to the hour Paddy Patterson and Joey Carbery replaced Healy and Casey in match that was becoming ragged.
After a half an hour of no scores, it was Dyer who saw a slim opening and on 72 minutes burst through Malakai Fekitoa and Peter O’Mahony from inside his half.
With space in front and pace no issue, he continued his diagonal run, Mike Haley making it across the pitch at speed but only to touch his boot as he turned on the burner.
Hanrahan missed the conversion but with Dragons 20-17 ahead Munster were against time. That perhaps invited more errors as they began to force things, Hanrahan finally adding three more points on 80 minutes to close out the match 23-17, leaving Munster to continue their search for the first win of the season.
Scoring sequence – 3 mins B Healy pen 0-3; 10 mins JJ Hanrahan pen 3-3; 23 mins JJ Hanrahan pen 9-3; 27 mins JJ Hanrahan pen 12-3; 37 mins S Archer try, B Healy con 15-10; 40 mins B Healy try, Healy con 15-17. Halftime 15-17. 72 mins R Dyer try 20-17; 80 mins JJ Hanrahan pen 23-17
Dragons: Angus O’Brien; Rio Dyer, Sio Tomkinson, Jack Dixon, Ashton Hewitt; JJ Hanrahan, Rhodri Williams; Aki Seiuli, Bradley Roberts, Lloyd Fairbrother; George Nott, Will Rowlands (capt); Sean Lonsdale, Taine Basham, Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: Coleman for Fairbrother, Carter for Nott (both 52 mins), Evans for Seiluli, Dee for Roberts (both 57 mins), Wainwright for Lonsdale (61 mins), Clark for Tomkinson (68 mins).
Yellow: R Dyer (37 mins).
Munster: Mike Haley; Keith Earls, Malakai Fekitoa, Dan Goggin, Simon Zebo; Ben Healy, Craig Casey; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley; Jack O’Donoghue, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Jack O’Sullivan.
Replacements: Beirne for Kleyn (13 mins), Carbery for Healy, Knox for Archer, Edogbo for Wycherley, O’Connor for Kilcoyne (all 57 mins), Patterson for Casey (60 mins), Buckley for Scannell (66 mins).
Yellow: J O’Donoghue (77 mins).
Referee: Sam Grove-White (SRU).