A converted Thomas Ahern try in the game’s dying moments spared Munster’s blushes as they fought back from 13-3 down to seal a 13-13 draw in their United Rugby Championship clash against Benetton in Treviso on Sunday.
After starting their campaign with a bonus-point victory against the Sharks last weekend, the Irish province were largely subdued at the Stadio Monigo, where Rhyno Smith’s first-half try looked set to provide his team with a shock win.
But the defending champions upped the ante on attack in the game’s closing stages and although a Scott Buckley try was disallowed for a knock-on, Ahern bundled over and Joey Carbery added the extras to draw the sides level.
Benetton, who edged out Cardiff by a single point in the Welsh capital in their season-opener, started strongly and got on the board through Jacob Umaga’s penalty after a Munster infringement in the scrum.
Carbery booted Munster level but the visitors were then penalised for offside, allowing Umaga to restore Benetton’s three-point lead inside the first quarter of an hour.
Munster were struggling for rhythm and were grateful for the alertness of Shane Daly, who intervened after fellow full-back Smith’s kick-and-chase attempt left everyone else scrambling backwards.
Benetton continued to hem in Munster in their own half for much of the final quarter of an hour of the half and their persistent pressure was rewarded with three minutes to go until half-time.
It was a simple move with Munster caught on the heels as the ball was spread to the left, with Umaga passing to Smith, who exploited a gap in the away side’s defence to touch down. Umaga added the extras.
Munster attempted to assert themselves after the break but they especially struggled at the lineout and Benetton did not seem to have too much trouble keeping out their opponents.
However, Benetton’s attacking threat dwindled in the final quarter of an hour as they looked to consolidate their position and they coughed up a couple of sloppy penalties to invite Munster forward.
Benetton were then penalised again at the breakdown, with Carbery opting to kick a straightforward penalty with six minutes left to bring Munster to within a converted try.
Now with some impetus, Munster charged up field and Buckley thought he had burrowed over, however the hooker was not in control of the ball by the time he crossed the whitewash.
But with time having crept past the regulation 80 minutes, there was no denying Ahern, who tunnelled his way over after several attempts from his team-mates were thwarted by Benetton’s stubborn defence.
Carbery added the conversion as Munster walked away with a share of the spoils.
In an attritional affair it was to left to Welsh Test centre Mason Grady to score the only try of the game for the visitors with their other points coming via the boot of Tinus de Beer, who added three penalties and a conversion.
Meanwhile, Angus O’Brien scored all the Dragons points courtesy of three three-pointers off the kicking tee.
After a scrappy opening period, O’Brien had the first chance for points and he made no mistake with a 10th-minute penalty.
However the home side soon suffered three blows in quick succession.
First Argentinean prop Rodrigo Martinez was forced to leave the field with an injury before De Beer kicked two simple penalties in quick succession to give his side a 6-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Dragons’ woes continued when flanker Sean Lonsdale departed with an eye injury and matters could have been even worse if Theo Cabanago and Grady had not fluffed the first try-scoring opportunity of the game.
Harrison Keddie became the third Dragons forward to leave the field before De Beer surprisingly missed with a straightforward penalty.
Dragons had not fired a shot in the opening half-hour and it came as no surprise when Cardiff extended their lead when O’Brien attempted chip was charged down to leave Grady with a 45-metre run to the line.
De Beer converted before O’Brien kicked his second penalty to leave Dragons trailing 13-6 at the interval.
Within two minutes of the restart, Dragons missed a golden opportunity to reduce the arrears. A well-judged kick from Dane Blacker should have been collected by Jarrod Rosser to score but the wing was too hesitant and the chance was blown.
De Beer missed a penalty and apart from Rosser’s near-miss that was as close as either side came to scoring in the third quarter.
With 15 minutes remaining, De Beer was successful with a 45-metre penalty to seal victory for Cardiff with O’Brien late effort securing his side a scarcely deserved bonus-point.