Familiar failings lead to Dragons' downfall in Munster
6:02pm Sunday 29th September 2013 in Sport
IT was all about hurling in Cork on Saturday.
The Gaelic sport led to disappointment in the Rebel County while the verb was more appropriate for director of rugby Lyn Jones, who must have come close to chucking his laptop across the Musgrave Park stand because of Newport Gwent Dragons' faltering set piece.
Saturday was the first pointless game of the RaboDirect Pro12 season for the Dragons after Munster exposed some familiar failings to win 23-9.
The Irish province may not be the European heavyweights of old but they still know how to grind it out like the days when Paul O'Connell was in his pomp alongside Foley, Flannery, Wallace et al.
Munster were worthy winners and it was something of a mystery how the Dragons got within inches of a bonus point in the closing stages.
They were bossed throughout with the hosts dominating possession and territory thanks to their supremacy at the scrum and lineout.
The Dragons did not enter the Munster 22 until the 74th minute, endured a spell down to 13 men courtesy of yellow cards for lock Andrew Coombs and flanker Jevon Groves and their backs lived off scraps throughout.
That Jones' charges kept to within 14 points says a lot for the spirit in the camp – and they produced the same tenacity in defence as they did in the wins against Ulster and the Scarlets and in the narrow defeat to Edinburgh – but hopes of challenging for a top-eight finish this season could be undermined by their shortcomings up front.
"It's always going to be a long night when you come to Munster without a set piece," lamented captain Coombs.
"The lineout was nowhere near strong enough for this level. It was just a bad at the office with a few wrong calls by myself and a few overthrows by the hookers."
That combined with an under-pressure scrum and a weakness against driving lineouts is a recipe for disaster.
Perhaps the balance of the side needs to be addressed. Those currently getting the nod provide energy around the paddock but are heavier units needed for Friday's important game against Zebre?
There's no need to rip things up after the first major disappointment of the season – especially given the Dragons' woeful record in Ireland, in particular Cork where they have never won – but there is the danger of the green shoots of recovery at Rodney Parade being trodden on by a rapidly retreating front eight.
The Dragons were also hindered by a slow start, perhaps not helped by the most bizarre of pre-match warm-ups.
The all-Munster All-Ireland hurling final between Cork and Clare was on the big screen with the teams doing their drills to the soundtrack of commentary from Croke Park.
The Rebel County's defeat in Dublin led to a slightly subdued atmosphere and the visitors gave the home crowd little to cheer in the first half hour.
The Dragons would have been pretty content as half-time approached and the scores level at 6-6 courtesy of two kicks apiece for fly-halves JJ Hanrahan and Kris Burton.
But then hooker Hugh Gustafson missed his man at a lineout inside his 22 and Munster pounced, loosehead James Cronin barging over and Hanrahan adding the extras for a 13-6 lead at the break.
The visitors chipped away at the deficit thanks to the unerring right boot of Burton early in the second half but then Coombs was sin-binned for overzealous rucking and was swiftly followed to the sidelines by Groves for illegally dragging down a rumbling maul.
A 13-9 scoreline predictably changed to 20-9 when Munster back row forward Peter O'Mahony went over from close range against the 13-man Dragons.
The hosts weren't as cutthroat as they might have been given their two-man advantage but Hanrahan secured the victory when he knocked over a penalty on the hour.
The Dragons then enjoyed their best spell of the game with replacement scrum-half Richie Rees adding some spark.
The visitors hammered away at the line in the closing stages but were unable to force their way over to earn a bonus point.
Frankly they could have no complaints, not that the visitors were painting it as a hard-luck story.
"It's disappointing but we battled hard and will regroup for Zebre," said Coombs. "We've had a pretty decent first month of the season and it's crucial that we keep winning at home while we learn to win on the road."
Munster: J Murphy (F Jones 60), A Conway, K Earls, I Dineen, S Zebo, JJ Hanrahan (I Keatley 61), C Sheridan (D Williams 69), J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 57), D Varley (M Sherry 65), J Ryan (S Archer 57), D O'Callaghan, D Foley (P O'Connell 50), P O'Mahony (captain), S Dougall, P Butler (CJ Stander 68).
Scorers: tries – J Cronin, P O'Mahony; conversions – JJ Hanrahan (2); penalties – JJ Hanrahan (3)
Dragons: D Evans, M Pewtner, R Wardle, J Dixon, T Prydie (A Hughes 63), K Burton (J Tovey 68), J Evans (R Rees 56), P Price (O Evans 49), H Gustafson (S Parry 58), F Chaparro (D Way 49), A Coombs (captain), M Screech (R Sidoli 63), J Groves (I Jones 57), L Evans, N Talei.
Scorers: penalties – K Burton (3)
Yellow cards: A Coombs, J Groves
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)