Munster climbed up to third in the Magners League table on Sunday evening as they turned on the style to run out 50-6 winners over the Newport Gwent Dragons, with young full-back Keith Earls helping himself to a hat-trick of tries.
In what was new coach Tony McGahan’s first competitive match at home, Munster made light work of the Newport Gwent Dragons for the second year running as Earls (3), Paul Warwick (2) and Doug Howlett (2) finished off some scintillating tries.
The European champions ran seven tries past the Dragons when the sides met in Cork last November and they repeated that feat on Sunday with Earls stealing the show.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney must have been licking his lips as he watched the 20-year-old run rings around the visitors’ defence, just 48 hours after another wonderkid of Irish rugby, Luke Fitzgerald, grabbed a hat-trick for Leinster.
Beaten in their first two Magners League outings, the Dragons travelled low on confidence, particularly as they had lost on their previous 16 trips to Ireland.
They had to make a late alteration to their starting line-up, with Richard Fussell replacing Ashley Smith in the back-line. Munster were also forced to tweak their initial selection – flu victim Tony Buckley was replaced in the front row by Marcus Horan.
James Arlidge, who slotted in at full-back with Shaun Connor at number 10, managed to kick the Welsh region into a fourth-minute lead.
But that was as good as it really got for Paul Turner’s men. Two minutes later, incisive running from David Wallace and Ian Dowling helped Earls convert a left wing overlap for his first try.
Paul Warwick converted and though the Dragons had some decent territory, they lacked the guile required to prize open the Munster defence.
Jamie Ringer, who was winning his 100th cap for the Dragons, led by example and the region found some joy by bossing the lineout.
However, their handling and attacking ideas left a lot to be desired and they were soon left chasing the game.
A real contender for try of the season arrived in the 20th minute when Warwick flung a crossfield kick out to Dowling.
The winger collected it and the ball was beautifully spun through the hands of Barry Murphy, Earls, Lifeimi Mafi and Mick O’Driscoll before Warwick cantered in under the posts for a seven-pointer.
Earls made sure he grabbed the headlines with a stunning inidividual try, four minutes later.
Showing supreme confidence, he dummied a pass to Dowling, kicked forward on the left wing and scooped it up on the bounce with his right foot before gleefully touching down.
19-3 down at half-time, the Dragons’ best moves were being spoiled by knock-ons but Arlidge did keep them within two converted scores with a 46th-minute penalty.
Munster responded nine minutes later. They chalked up their bonus point score when Earls speared through a gap on the left and had the gas to make the line.
Adam Jones was thwarted after the Dragons had set up a five-metre lineout and with both Frankie Sheahan and Gethin Robinson sin-binned for separate incidents, the game lulled somewhat.
A Warwick penalty goal roused Munster back to life and the Munster out-half was soon over the whitewash again after finishing off a storming intercept run by John O’Sullivan.
The demolition job was rounded off by a late brace from Howlett.
A powerful hand-off of Richard Fussell helped Howlett scoot under the posts and the All Black winger was put over by Peter Stringer in the right corner, at the death, with Warwick’s conversion taking his personal tally to 25 points.
So a night to remember for Earls and a stellar early-season performance from McGahan’s charges.
The Dragons have their third straight defeat to contemplate and with squad depth the buzz word in the league, it was interesting to note that Munster kept both Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara on the replacements bench and also rested Rua Tipoki.