Williams tames the Dragons

 

Munster 27 Dragons 3:Springbok centre Jean de Villiers made his debut for Munster as a hat-trick from Nick Williams inspired the defending Magners League champions to victory over the Dragons.

Number eight Williams had his best game in Munster red, powering over for his first competitive tries for the province, with fellow New Zealander Doug Howlett also touching down.

The Dragons tired in the second half and James Arlidge’s penalty just before half time proved to be their only score.

A stomach bug prevented Keith Earls from taking his place for Munster, meaning positional switches for Felix Jones and Barry Murphy and a late promotion from the bench for de Villiers.

Lions duo Ronan O’Gara and Donncha O’Callaghan also made their first starts of the season.

Beaten heavily on their last two visits to Cork, the Dragons made three changes to the side that scored a bonus point win over Glasgow last weekend, full-back Martyn Thomas, prop Hugh Gustafson and flanker James Harris earning recalls.

Munster started well, de Villiers winning a penalty on halfway and then setting up his centre partner Lifeimi Mafi for a jinking run into the 22.

The Dragons gradually gained territory and turned down a kick at goal before Munster, with a strong defensive scrum, were able to force a turnover and clear the danger.

Jones, Mafi and Denis Hurley saw plenty of possession in the first quarter but Munster grew frustrated by the Dragons’ well-organised, aggressive defence and O’Gara had to react sharply to prevent Ashley Smith from releasing a team-mate for the line.

O’Gara missed his first shot at the posts but the deadlock was finally broken five minutes before half-time when he split the posts after a scrum infringement by Nigel Hall.

Arlidge quickly replied with a penalty of his own and was narrowly wide with an injury-time drop-goal attempt following a terrific midfield break by Joe Bearman.

Yet the Dragons lost their way in the second half as Tony McGahan’s men upped the intensity. Five minutes in, Williams crashed over off the base of an advancing five-metre scrum to register Munster’s first try.

Having lost Murphy and Alan Quinlan to injuries, Munster pressed on and pinned the visitors back in their own half for much of the remainder.

O’Gara and Dragons replacement Shaun Connor saw yellow for a bout of fisticuffs at a ruck close to the Welsh side’s line and just moments later, Williams used his brute strength to barge past Harris and Martyn and Thomas for his second touchdown.

Scrum-half Tomas O’Leary added the conversion and did likewise after replacement Howlett speared through a gap and outpaced Aled Brew to score behind the posts.

The Dragons tried valiantly to mount a comeback but Munster sewed up the bonus point eight minutes from the end when Williams took a quick tap and bulldozed his way over again from close range.