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RaboDirect PRO12: Munster grind out victory over Dragons
Paul O'Connell made a successful return in Munster's workmanlike 23-9 RaboDirect PRO12 win over the Newport Gwent Dragons at Musgrave Park.
Introduced by Munster for the closing 30 minutes, O'Connell was playing for the first time since fracturing his right forearm during the Lions' opening Test against Australia in June.
The second row was closely watched by new Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and forwards coach John Plumtree from the stands as Munster bounced back from losing in Treviso last weekend.
Prop James Cronin's second try of the season gave Munster a 13-6 advantage at the break, the hosts moving clear after Kris Burton had matched JJ Hanrahan's early brace of penalties.
Yellow cards for Dragons captain Andrew Coombs and Jevon Groves left the Welsh region in all sorts of trouble and Munster skipper Peter O'Mahony's close-range try, supplemented by a further Hanrahan conversion and penalty, made the game safe.
The Dragons, who opened their campaign with two wins from three, were level at 6-6 by the end of the opening quarter in Cork without having achieved much in attack.
O'Mahony and his back-row colleague Paddy Butler were the guilty parties as Burton cancelled out Hanrahan's lead scores, the former Ireland Under-20 star having landed penalties after seven and 19 minutes.
Hanrahan missed a tricky third attempt from the left wing and as the Dragons' well-organised defence continued to frustrate Munster, Burton was off target with a snap drop goal effort.
A knock on from a lineout maul, allied to a scrum infringement from John Ryan, prevented Munster from creating pressure in the Dragons' 22, but O'Mahony swooped on Hugh Gustafson's overthrown lineout to set his side up for a telling 35th-minute attack.
Direct running from Ivan Dineen punctured the visitors' defence and with Cathal Sheridan delivering quickly from the base of rucks, Cronin came on the charge to bulldoze through a tackle and make the try-line.
As the rain began to fall, Hanrahan fired over the conversion from the left to establish a seven-point advantage and give Munster something to build on.
Burton clawed back three points early in the second half, slamming over a penalty from just inside the Munster half, but the Dragons lost the services of Coombs shortly afterwards.
The Dragons skipper was sin-binned for a reckless use of the boot on Damien Varley as he attempted to clear a ruck and just a minute later, flanker Groves followed him for collapsing an advancing Munster maul.
The 13 men could not hold out and O'Mahony wormed his way over from a close-in ruck, with confirmation from TMO Jude Quinn, and Hanrahan's successful conversion making it 20-9.
O'Connell came on to huge acclaim from the home crowd, joining fellow stalwart in the second row, as the province tried to push on for a bonus point.
But Dragons replacement Sam Parry won a crucial penalty as his side defended close to their line, and it was the Welshmen who had the better scoring chances in the closing stages.
Munster were forced to defend for much of the remainder, with Dan Evans and Ross Wardle both crowded out in the right corner as the Dragons hunted for their own bonus point.
Their best opportunity was spoiled by a Wardle knock on as replacement Jason Tovey looked set to put him over late on.
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Guinness PRO12 Table
|Saturday 20th December|
|14:40||Glasgow Warriors vs Munster|
|17:15||Ospreys vs Ulster|
|Sunday 21st December|
|16:00||Dragons vs Zebre|
|Friday 26th December|
|14:05||Cardiff Blues vs Newport Gwent D'gons|
|17:00||Munster vs Leinster|
|18:45||Ulster vs Connacht|
|Saturday 27th December|
|14:40||Glasgow vs Edinburgh|
|17:15||Ospreys vs Scarlets|
|Sunday 28th December|
|14:00||Zebre vs Treviso|
|Thursday 1st January|
|14:05||Newport Gwent D'gons vs Cardiff Blues|
|17:00||Connacht vs Munster|
|Friday 2nd January|
|19:35||Edinburgh vs Glasgow Warriors|
|Saturday 3rd January|
|14:00||Treviso vs Zebre|
|14:40||Leinster vs Ulster|
|17:05||Scarlets vs Ospreys|
|Friday 9th January|
|19:35||Connacht vs Edinburgh|
|19:35||Glasgow vs Scarlets|
|Saturday 10th January|
|14:40||Cardiff Blues vs Leinster|
|15:00||Zebre vs Munster|
|Sunday 11th January|
|14:00||Treviso vs Ulster|
|16:00||Ospreys vs Newport Gwent D'gons|
|Wednesday 14th January|
|TBC||Leinster vs Newport Gwent D'gons|
|TBC||Edinburgh vs Ospreys|
|TBC||Ulster vs Benetton Treviso|
|TBC||Munster vs Cardiff Blues|
|Friday 19th December|
|Cardiff Blues 21 - 9 Scarlets|
|Edinburgh 48 - 0 Treviso|
|Leinster 21 - 11 Connacht|
|Sunday 30th November|
|Glasgow Warriors 19 - 15 Dragons|
|Saturday 29th November|
|Connacht 14 - 8 Scarlets|
|Leinster 18 - 12 Ospreys|
|Zebre 18 - 10 Edinburgh|
|Friday 28th November|
|Cardiff Blues 36 - 25 Treviso|
|Munster 21 - 20 Ulster|
|Sunday 23rd November|
|Edinburgh 28 - 13 Cardiff Blues|
|Treviso 24 - 24 Leinster|
|Friday 21st November|
|Ulster 25 - 16 Ospreys|
|Connacht 43 - 3 Zebre|
|Scarlets 19 - 9 Glasgow Warriors|
|Dragons 12 - 38 Munster|
|Saturday 1st November|
|Ulster 23 - 6 Newport Gwent D'gons|
|Scarlets 28 - 13 Zebre|
|Cardiff Blues 24 - 28 Munster|
|Friday 31st October|
|Ospreys 26 - 11 Connacht|
|Glasgow 17 - 9 Benetton Treviso|
|Leinster 33 - 8 Edinburgh|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com