Ian Keatley snatches points for Munster

Outhalf boots six penalties to see off Dragons and strengthen table-toppers’ position

Munster’s Ian Keatley tackled by Dragons’ Cory Hill  and  Owen Evans. Photograph: Huw Evans/Inpho

Munster’s Ian Keatley tackled by Dragons’ Cory Hill and Owen Evans. Photograph: Huw Evans/Inpho

 

Dragons 14 Munster 18

Munster retained top spot in the RaboDirect Pro12 but only after Ian Keatley’s boot compensated for a scrappy display against Newport Gwent Dragons.

Twice the hosts looked to have inflicted only a second loss of the league campaign on Munster as Matthew Pewtner scored the game’s only try. But Munster escaped Keith Earl’s yellow card and a catalogue of mistakes to clinch a narrow victory.

However it came at a price as Mike Sherry, James Coughlan and Gerhard Van Den Heever all suffered injuries ahead of the Heineken Cup.

This was an opportunity for Paul O’Connell to begin the healing process from last week’s agony with Ireland against New Zealand and he did not lack motivation as he charged through tackles time and again for an hour before finally making way for Ian Nagle.

However, Rodney Parade has not been the happiest of hunting grounds for Munster in recent years having won just one of their previous four visits to Gwent while their hosts had lost just once in seven games on their own patch this season.

Rob Penney will have been frustrated by his team’s unconvincing start, particularly the handling. Sherry’s first lineout through was ruled not straight, compounded by Ian Keatley’s failure to gather a high ball despite the lack of a black jersey within touching distance that led, from the resulting scrum, to Tovey kicking the opening points on 11 minutes.

Munster were efficient at the breakdown but CJ Stander spilled Duncan Williams’s pass after Keatley’s break had opened the door for a clear passage up field.

There were errors in defence as well and Billy Holland was fortunate Tovey failed to capitalise on his high-tackle when he pulled his second effort wide. The Dragons outhalf almost made the most of Donncha O’Callaghan’s knock-on but the hosts were penalised for entering the ruck from the side and the chance went abegging.

It was a recurring theme for the first half that eventually saw Keatley equalise on 25 minutes after O’Connell’s burst. Their driving lineout may have been stifled but with their colossus on the field, Munster could still find a way forward.

Yet amid the frustration of their own making with the number of mistakes, Munster’s discipline wavered and Coughlan was fortunate not to have received a yellow card for what appeared a cynical foul at the breakdown as the Dragons edged forward, largely through the bulwarking runs of number eight Netani Talei and the fleet-footed wing Will Harries.

Tovey missed a snatched drop goal but struck a long-range penalty with the final kick of the half to leave Munster trailing 6-3 at the break of a lively encounter.

Munster were dealt a blow just three minutes into the second half when the Dragons scored the game’s opening try and Sherry limped off injured. The hooker had been floored moments earlier after falling awkwardly in a tackle but was forced to make way as the Dragons lined up the conversion of Pewtner’s well-taken try after Talei’s miss-pass beat Hurley.

Tovey missed the conversion and was again off-target with a penalty after O’Connell was caught needlessly obstructing an opponent and Coughlan then trudged from the field injured.

Munster were in desperate need of a lift and it came in the shape of Keith Earls, who at last managed to get on the outside of his opposite number. He released Hurley at full flight and the wing looked odds-on to score from 20 metres out only to be hauled down.

Munster’s pack scented blood from the scrum but yet another infringement let the Dragons off the hook.

Keatley kicked a second penalty but no sooner had Munster hauled themselves back into the reckoning at 11-6 than Earle’s flung out an arm as he chased a kick and took Dan Evans around the neck, leaving referee Marius Mitrea will little option than to send him to the bin.

It must have been maddening for Penney watching from the stands, though the coach will have at least been satisfied by his team’s response.

Down to 14 men, Munster stepped up a gear to earn Keatley a third penalty that cut the deficit to a score that almost came moments later when Cory Hill was binned for failing to retreat 10 metres. Keatley fired wide.

The outhalf swiftly made amends by striking two more penalties, either side of Tovey’s drop goal, as the lead swapped hands in the final 10 minutes before Keatley’s sixth secured a scrappy victory.

Dragons: D Evans; W Harries, P Leach, R Wardle, M Pewtner; J Tovey, R Rees ; O Evans , S Parry, F Chaparro , C Hill, R Sidoli (capt), L Evans, N Cudd, N Talei.

Replacements: D Way for Chaparro (61 mins) A Coundley for O Evans (66 mins), M Screech for Sidoli (73 mins), E Dee for Rarry, W Evans for Rees (both 74 mins) Sin Bin - C Hill

Munster: F Jones; G Van Den Heever, K Earls, J Downey, D Hurley ; I Keatley, D Williams (C Sheridan, 66); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin, 70), M Sherry (D Varley, 43), S Archer (BJ Botha, 70), D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (I Nagle, 61), B Holland (capt), CJ Stander, J Coughlan (B O’Mahony, 48).

Replacements: D Varley for Sherry (43 mins), B O’Mahony for Coughan (48 mins), I Dineen for Hurley, I Nagle for O’Connell (both 61 mins), C Sheridan for Williams (66 mins), J Cronin for Kilcoyne, S Archer for Botha (both 60 mins).

Sin Bin - K Earls

Referee: Marius Mirea (Italy)

Attendance: 7,118

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