Flanker David Wallace turned in a man-of-the-match performance as Munster proved too good for the Dragons, beating the Welsh side 24-8 to remain second behind Pool One leaders Sale.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 1: Saturday, December 10
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS 8 MUNSTER 24, Rodney Parade (Att: 8,323)
Scorers: Dragons: Try: Chapman; Pen: Warlow
Munster: Tries: Leamy, Horan; Con: O'Gara; Pens: O'Gara 2; Drops: Lawlor, O'Gara
Wallace was to the fore as Munster tamed the Dragons on their own patch and rubbished comments, particularly the public pronouncements of prop Rhys Thomas, that this Munster side is an "ageing" one.
Yes, the men in red started with four players - John Kelly, Gary Connolly, John Hayes and captain Anthony Foley - at 31 or over, but the quartet more than played their part in a well-judged win that saw Declan Kidney's side close the gap on Sale, who were 20-16 winners in Castres on Friday night, back to four points.
The Dragons visiti Thomond Park next Saturday (kick-off 5.15pm) with little more than pride to play for after Munster served up a third straight pool defeat for Paul Turner's men.
Munster, obviously fired up by the mid-week comments from the Dragons' ranks, dominated the first half to lead 17-3 at the break. In truth it should have been more but with fly-half Ronan O'Gara adopting to stick to a kick-for-the-corners gameplan, any expansiveness was left until later in the game.
Full-back Mossie Lawlor, in only his second outing for Munster this season, dropped an eleventh-minute goal to set the visitors on their way. O'Gara pinged over a penalty three minutes later and nudged over a drop goal of his own on 25 minutes to confirm his side's early dominance.
9-0 in front, Munster continued to probe for the opening try, kicking to the Dragons' inexperienced back three and finding joy from the home side's lineouts with Mick O'Driscoll, Donncha O'Callaghan and Denis Leamy particularly prominent.
The try came four minutes before the interval as, with the Dragons' Tongan centre Sione Tuipulotu in the sin-bin for a deliberate ruck offside, Leamy dived over from close range after a lineout steal.
O'Gara missed the conversion but added a penalty in injury-time, which was cancelled out by Dragons fly-half Craig Warlow just seconds from referee Tony Spreadbury's half-time whistle.
While both Wallace and Leamy continued to rule at the breakdown, a scorelss third quarter robbed the game of any flow. On 64 minutes, loosehead prop Marcus Horan crashed over for Munster's second try from a similar lineout drive, initiated by an O'Driscoll catch, to the first. O'Gara converted and the visitors looked set to go in search of a potential bonus point at 24-3 in front.
Unfortunately, it never came - a thirdtry looked on when O'Gara's kick from his own 22 was fielded by Anthony Horgan and the supporting Lawlor's kick-on, just past halfway, had the Dragons' defence scurrying back on 70 minutes. The home side survived though and had the final word when, seven minutes into injury-time, right winger Gareth Chapman finished off a backline move from the Dragons in the right corner.
By that time, Munster had seemingly lost interest. Replacement centre Barry Murphy had been sin-binned - only minutes after coming on - for a deliberate knock-on. Coach Kidney also ferried on five replacements in deepest injury-time for just two minutes of game-time apiece. However, the bonus point will certainly be utmost in Munster minds come next Saturday.
11 minutes - Munster drop goal: Mossie Lawlor - 0-3
14 mins - Munster penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 0-6
25 mins - Munster drop goal: Ronan O'Gara - 0-9
25 mins - Dragons yellow card: Sione Tuipulotu
36 mins - Munster try: Denis Leamy - 0-14; conversion: missed - 0-14
40(+3) mins - Munster penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 0-17
40(+6) mins - Dragons penalty: Craig Warlow - 3-17
HT - Dragons 3 Munster 17
64 mins - Munster try: Marcus Horan - 3-22; conversion: Ronan O'Gara - 3-24
80 mins - Munster yellow card: Barry Murphy
80(+7) mins - Dragons try: Gareth Chapman - 8-24; conversion: missed - 8-24
FT - Dragons 8 Munster 24
DRAGONS: Aled Thomas; Gareth Chapman, Sione Tuipulotu, Ceri Sweeney, Richard Fussell; Craig Warlow, Gareth Cooper; Adam Black, Steve Jones, Rhys Thomas, Ian Gough, Peter Sidoli, Andrew Hall, Jamie Ringer, Michael Owen (capt).
Replacements used: Gethin Robinson for Thomas, Luke Charteris for Sidoli (both 59 mins), Thomas for Robinson (63-78), Jon Bryant for Tuipulotu (68), Gareth Baber for Gareth Cooper, Richard Bryan for Hall (both 72). Not used: Andrew Brown, David Maddocks.
MUNSTER: Mossie Lawlor; John Kelly, Gary Connolly, Trevor Halstead, Anthony Horgan; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Mick O'Driscoll, Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Anthony Foley (capt).
Replacements used: Barry Murphy for Connolly (78), Tomas O'Leary for Foley (80+3), Frank Roche for Horan, Stephen Keogh for Leamy, Denis Fogarty for Flannery, Jeremy Manning for O'Gara, Trevor Hogan for O'Callaghan (all 80+5).
Sin Bin: Tuipulotu (Dragons) (25), Murphy (Munster) (80).
Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)