Bleyendaal impressed with young Munster side’s ability to dig out win
Victory completes strong Christmas and new year run for Johann van Graan’s side
Munster’s Tyler Bleyendaal in action against the Dragons during the Guinness Pro 14 game at Rodney Parade. Photograph: Alex Davidson/Inpho
Dragons 7 Munster 8
Munster’s young players stood up to be counted to grind out a nervy win over the Dragons and then saw captain Tyler Bleyendaal challenge them to improve even further.
In the mud at Rodney Parade, Johann van Graan’s side escaped with victory by the narrowest of margins in a contest which certainly won’t make any Guinness Pro 14 highlights reel.
Still, the visitors came out on the right side of the result and that will please Van Graan no end, with his side now top of Conference A going into a two-week break.
The Christmas and January period has been a fine one for Munster and this success over the Dragons – with their Ireland contingent absent – pointed towards a positive future.
Captain Bleyendaal said: “This was a young team with a lot of changes so this game was a new learning for a lot of them. I was happy with how we stuck at it and ground out a win.
“It wasn’t perfect and we probably gave up a few opportunities, but we got the points and we’re delighted with that. We’re happy to finish this block in the position we are.
“We’ve had eight wins, but we’re not finished yet and there is still a lot of work to do.”
Torrential rain worsened what was already a bare Newport surface and it meant free-flowing rugby was off the agenda. Instead a kicking and set-piece battle emerged.
In the second of those categories, Munster were faultless. They won all 18 of their lineouts, which gave them a solid platform from which to boot for territory.
Bill Johnston kicked a penalty after being upended by Jared Rosser as the hosts went to the break with a 7-3 lead. In the second period, Munster turned it around to come out on top.
Bleyendaal explained: “It was probably not the most exciting match I’ve ever played in, but there were a lot of pressure points in it and a lot of kicking to try and make the most of the conditions.
“It was a grind right until the 80th minute and it was very wet. We haven’t played in that type of rain for a while. We played into the wind for the first half and then it switched. It was tough, but in the second half we managed to get into the right areas and then we applied a lot of pressure.
“We didn’t get the points initially, but we reapplied the pressure. Our set-piece did really well and we went ahead eventually.”
Munster dominated the second-half territory and forced Dragons lock Matthew Screech to bring down a driving lineout. His yellow card was crucial. Van Graan’s men pounded away for a try and finally came up trumps when Kleyn powered over after Munster turned down several kicks at goal.
It proved enough for victory as Lewis missed what would have been a match-winning penalty for the Dragons late on.
“We knew this block would be massive for every team across Europe,” admitted Van Graan. “We’ve qualified for the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup and we’re now back top of our conference so the guys will take a well-deserved break now to recharge their batteries.
“I want to make a special mention for the whole squad. In these periods you need everyone to get you a result and it was fantastic to get a lot of guys like Bill Johnston some game time.
“They are the future of Munster. Scrum and lineout wise I’ll take that performance any day of the week. It was a tough game and Dragons threw everything at us, but I thought our composure in the last 10 minutes was excellent and Alby Mathewson was superb in controlling the game.”
SCORING SEQUENCE – 13 mins: L Fairbrother try, J Lewis con, 7-0; 29: B Johnson pen, 7-3; (half-time); 62: J Kleyn try, 7-8.
DRAGONS: J Williams; J Rosser, T Morgan, J Dixon, W Talbot-Davies; J Lewis, R Williams; B Harris, R Hibbard, L Fairbrother; J Davies, M Screech; H Keddie, N Cudd, O Griffiths. Replacement: L Evans (for Davies 64 mins). Not used: R Lawrence, R Fawcett, D Suter, T Basham, R Davies, J Tovey, Z Kirchner.
MUNSTER: M Haley; D Sweetnam, D Goggin, T Bleyendaal, R O’Mahony; B Johnston, A Mathewson; J Loughman, R Marshall, S Archer; J Kleyn, B Holland; F Wycherley, C Oliver, A Botha.
Replacements: K O’Byrne for Marshall (59 mins), C Nash for Haley, J Taute for Johnston ( both 64), G Coombes for Oliver (65), L O’Connor for Loughman, C Parker for Archer (both 66), D O’Shea for Kleyn ( 71). Not used: Cronin.
Referee: Ben Blain (SRU).