Fingers crossed for Cullen

Cardiff Blues 30 Munster 20

Far more pressing is the shoulder injury sustained by Christian Cullen during this frustrating defeat at the Arms Park on Saturday.

Gaffney is praying that a scan, the results of which will be known today, will allay fears that Cullen sustained ligament damage which could rule the former All Black out for the rest of the season, and specifically the Heineken Cup quarter-final in San Sebastian next month.

Although Cullen arrived back in Ireland with his arm in a sling, Gaffney is not admitting defeat.

“He has started to get some feeling back and with a bit of luck it might just be a bruise on a nerve. If it is that, he will be back in training within a week and we could wear that.”

Gaffney’s anguish wasn’t helped by this defeat against the League’s cellar-dwellars - he was so annoyed he substituted a back row for a second row at half-time.

Tom Bowman made way for Alan Quinlan with Stephen Keogh moving into the middle of the scrum.

The coach explained: “We wanted to give Quinny some game time but the line-out didn’t function in the first half, we got calls wrong, there wasn’t a lift on a couple of throws and we had to try something different.”

Gaffney’s displeasure was also felt by Rob Henderson, called ashore after 57 minutes and replaced by Jason Holland. There was some improvement but it wasn’t enough for a back line that struggled to function with slow and often poor-quality possession.

Cardiff may have played the percentages, but Munster’s performance must be measured by the fact that they failed to capitalise when the home side had to operate with 14 players for the entire third quarter.

Cardiff started with a flourish and went ahead when Nick Robinson dropped a goal, and though Paul Burke levelled after ten minutes, Robinson inspired the home side with a try midway through the half, which Thomas converted.

Munster had limited time in the Cardiff half and they rarely looked like scoring again in that opening period. Instead, they had to fight tooth and nail to stay in touch.

They eventually crumbled when Kort Schubert blocked down an attempted clearance by Mike Prendergast and grabbed a try. Again, Thomas converted.

Munster did have one flurry before the interval. Shaun Payne, moved to full-back to replace the injured Cullen, launched an offensive that was carried on by Anthony Horgan. It ended when Trevor Hogan was bowled over near the line but Munster were awarded a penalty at the ruck and Burke kicked the points to leave it 17-6 at the break.

Thomas kicked a further penalty early in the second half but Marcus Horan drove over for a Munster try in 11 minutes and Burke converted to narrow the cap to seven points.

It was a symptom of Munster’s lack of urgency that they knocked-on straight from the kick-off, put themselves under pressure and were lucky to survive a further spell of Cardiff pressure.

But Munster should have scored when Horan, Paul Devlin and Burke combined to send Hogan away on a sprint to the line. The second row was hauled down inches from the target and Thomas was shown a yellow card for an illegal challenge at the ruck.

It didn’t matter, because Munster couldn’t capitalise. They got penalties but couldn’t decide whether to go for lineouts or scrums.

Ultimately, they were driven off a scrum and the scoring chance was lost.

Cardiff put the game beyond Munster’s reach - ironically at a time when they were reduced to 14 men - with Schubert seizing his chance with a catch from the line-out and a clear dive to the line. Mike MacLeod kicked the conversion.

Frankie Sheahan gave Munster hope with a try that Burke converted but Thomas kicked a late penalty to give Cardiff a ten points advantage and leave Munster without even a bonus point.

CARDIFF: N. MacLeod, D. Dewdney, T. Davies, L. Thomas, C. Morgan, N. Robinson, R. Powell, M. Jones, G. Williams, B. Evans, C. Quinnell (captain), D. Jones, M. Molitika, K. Schubrt, R. Sowden-Taylor.

Replacements: J. Vaughton for Robinson, N. Llewellyn for M. Jones, R. Thomas for Williams (all 79).

MUNSTER: C. Cullen, J. Kelly, S. Payne, R. Henderson, A. Horgan, P. Burke, M. Prendergast, M. Horan, F. Sheahan, G. McIlwham, T. Bowman, T. Hogan, J. Williams (captain), S. Keogh, D. Wallace.

Replacements: P. Devlin for Cullen(38), A. Quinlan for Bowman (half time), E. Reddan for Prendergast (46), J. Holland for Henderson (57)

Referee: M. Hall (Scotland).

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