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Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
James Crombie/INPHO
# on fire
Munster put out the Dragons' fire en route to thumping ten-try win
Munster outclassed Dragons winning 64-3 in tonight’s URC game.

MUNSTER 64

DRAGONS 3

Garry Doyle reports from Thomond Park

THE DRAGONS ARRIVED here dressed all in black but that is where the comparisons with New Zealand end.

To be fair to the Welsh region, they have limited resources. Even more obvious though is their shortage of confidence. Early on in this season they ran Leinster close before outplaying Connacht.

But they haven’t won since in the URC – only the hapless Zebre beneath them in the standings. In this respect, today’s game was a microcosm of their season, good initially, before their spirit got quickly dented.

You felt for them, especially their out-half, Sam Davies, whose deft chips and zippy passes kept the Munster defence honest. Davies’ problem however, is a shortage of options when Plan A fails. Around him too few tuned into his wavelength.

You can’t say that about Craig Casey. The little scrum-half got a couple of tries here but that was just the headline grabber. Everything else about his game, his passing, running, kicking and most importantly of all, his decision-making, was top-notch.

While he impressed, he wasn’t the stand-out player. No, that award goes to Chris Farrell, one of four players on the pitch who was part of Joe Schmidt’s 2019 World Cup squad. Reproduce this form on a regular basis and he’ll be part of Andy Farrell’s 2023 plans, too.

Casey is another who is likely to be on the plane to France but what about Jack Crowley? Right now, he hasn’t even been considered a viable international option but 18 months is a long time in a player’s career, especially a youngster’s. The kid has promise. Let’s see how he goes from now to then.

jack-crowley-kicks-a-conversion James Crombie / INPHO Crowley excelled at out-half tonight. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Back to tonight. The upshot of all these stand-out performances is that Munster ended up getting what they needed out of this fixture: a bonus-point victory, one that carries them up to third in the URC table, nine points behind leaders Leinster.

They’re scheduled to play their great rivals twice in the run-in but before all that there is a trip to South Africa to negotiate. Win down there – and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t – and the long-term benefits, also known as a home semi-final, will be there for them.

The significance of that cannot be overstated. Munster don’t always play well here but they rarely lose, indeed this facile victory extended their 100 per cent winning record in Limerick this season.

They were sharp from the off. Captain Jack O’Donoghue was a towering influence in the lineout; the scrum – which included youthful loosehead, Josh Wycherley, was solid; the pace of their backrow constantly troubled Dragons; their defensive linespeed was good, their passing – yes their passing – was even better.

All that added up to scores, lots of them, the first coming in the tenth minute, an opportunistic score from Casey, who stayed patient behind a Munster maul which was initially driven backwards. Crucially Munster’s pack stayed in the fight, gathering their senses before making quick yards with their second push.

That was when Casey arrived on the scene. Sensing disarray in the Dragons’ ranks, the little scrum-half feinted to go right and then instead took off in the opposite direction, using his speed of foot as well as his strength to get across. Crowley’s conversion made it 7-0.

They were on their way.

shane-daly-celebrates-his-try-with-jack-crowley-and-mike-haley James Crombie / INPHO Daly and Haley celebrate a Munster try. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Sam Davies tried to halt their progress with a 17th minute penalty but by the end that was little more than a footnote. Munster were good, Dragons swiftly becoming demoralised as the scores piled up, Casey getting a second try, again the maul being the source of the score, the Munster pack tying the Dragons defenders infield, which is precisely where the scrum-half wanted them. A couple of wide passes later, Farrell bulldozing his way across the gainline, left Munster inches from the line.

Again, Casey played his cards smartly, dummying to pass before sneaking through the tiniest of gaps to make the score 12-3; Jack Crowley’s conversion stretched that lead out to 11.

Soon it was 18, the third try arriving just a minute later, a breakaway score from inside the Munster 22, O’Donoghue arriving to finish it off, Farrell and Mike Haley the creators.

On it went. Even before half-time, the Dragons looked a dejected bunch, their handling errors increasing, their tackling lacking bite. In response, Munster were merciless, playing with confidence, passing out the back, getting the outstanding Farrell involved not once but twice in the move that led to try number four, his pass out to Chris Cloete perfectly judged. That made it 28-3.

The second-half had the potential to be a letdown but to be fair to Munster, they kept on scoring, Casey providing the key pass for Simon Zebo to score on 55 minutes, Haley the creator of Farrell’s try a minute later and also the supplier to Shane Daly two minutes after that.

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By now their confidence was  at its fullest, Crowley executing passes with the back of his hand, Cloete being in the right place at the right time for his second try of the night – Daly and Casey providing the chance. Replacement John Hodnett got in on the act and for a time it looked like Munster would score every time they attacked. Somehow Dragons gathered themselves to stop the score getting sillier. Still, it was a humiliation. Munster, quite simply, were in a different league.

Munster scorers

Tries: Casey 2, O’Donoghue 2, Cloete 2, Zebo, Farrell, Daly, Hodnett

Conversions: Crowley (5/7), Healy (2/3)

Dragons scorers

Penalties: Davies (1/1)

Munster: Mike Haley (rep: Ben Healy ’59); Shane Daly, Chris Farrell (rep: Rory Scannell ’55), Dan Goggin, Simon Zebo (rep: Neil Cronin ’68); Jack Crowley (rep: Ben Healy ‘), Craig Casey; Josh Wycherley (rep: Jeremy Loughman ’55), Diarmuid Barron (rep: Niall Scannell ’55), John Ryan (rep: Stephen Archer ’55); Jean Kleyn (rep: John Hodnett ’65), Fineen Wycherley (rep: Alex Kendellen ’41); Jack O’Donoghue (CAPT), Chris Cloete, Gavin Coombes.

Dragons: Jordan Williams; Will Talbot-Davies (rep: Lewis Jones ’54), Jack Dixon, Aneurin Owen, Rio Dyer; Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams (rep: Dan Baker ‘); Greg Bateman (rep: Aki Seiuli ’47), Taylor Davies (rep: Ellis Shipp ’56), Chris Coleman (rep: Mesake Doge ’59), Joe Davies, Joe Maksymiw, Harri Keddie (rep: Dan Baker ’71), Ollie Griffiths, Aaron Wainwright (rep: Ben Fry ’41).

Replacements: Huw Taylor,  Josh Lewis

Referee: Sam Grove-White (SRU)

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