Reds have to hang on after scaling heights

Munster enjoyed the time of their lives for 40 minutes in last night’s Rabo Direct Pro12 clash with the Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park.

They should have led by more than 16-3 at half-time, but by the final whistle they were desperately relieved to have escaped with a three-point victory.

For half the proceedings, Felix Jones, Simon Zebo, Ian Keatley and Johne Murphy were at their scintillating best on a glorious night for open rugby and behind a forward pack that destroyed the Welsh in the set scrums and in the loose play exchanges, all culminating in a series of rip-roaring attacks that pushed them 16-3 ahead at the break.

After that, however, it was a completely different story.

The Blues ran in a smashing converted try after seven minutes of the second half and soon cut the arrears to three with a penalty. Suddenly, Munster looked rattled and unsure, the Blues revitalised!. They defended resolutely, even with skipper Paul Tito in the bin, helped by Munster’s dubious decision to ring the changes at a time when just about everything was going wrong.

The four points Munster just about deserved to bank will strengthen their chances of a home semi-final and in spite of the second-half shortcomings, they will take a number of positives from the first-half display.

They will still rejoice in the brilliance of the try that came in the 15th minute. It began on the Blues’ 10-metre line when Tomás O’Leary used Mick O’Driscoll on the narrow side. In a move straight off the training ground, the veteran second row quickly switched play back inside to the flying Zebo. He completely carved open the Cardiff defence before delivering the sweetest imaginable 20m pass to Felix Jones, who ran a superb attacking line and took the ball at a scorching pace to cross for a score that received a well merited lengthy ovation.

Cardiff had taken the lead with a fourth-minute penalty by Dan Parks but the remainder of the first half was nothing short of an embarrassment for the visitors. B J Botha, Damien Varley and Marcus Horan were absolutely ruthless in the way they dealt with the hapless Blues front row and loose forwards.

Jones’s try was converted by Ian Keatley, who also landed three penalty goals in 40 minutes of rugby that delighted the crowd.

Inevitably though, a Cardiff side including the great Martyn Williams in the back row made an infinitely better fist of things after the restart.

They were back in the game after seven minutes when Gavin Henson made a searing break that exposed grave limitations in the Munster defence and paved the way for a sparkling try by winger Richard Mustoe that Parks converted from the touchline. Substitute Ben Blair reduced the arrears to three points on 63 minutes and the Blues were very much in it right to the finish, quietly pleased no doubt at holding Munster scoreless throughout the second half.

Scorers for Munster: Try: F Jones. Con: I Keatley. Pens: I Keatley 3.

Scorers for Cardiff Blues: Try: R Mustoe. Con: D Parks. Pens: B Blair, D Parks.

MUNSTER: F Jones; J Murphy, D Barnes, L Mafi, S Zebo; I Keatley, T O’Leary; M Horan, D Varley, B J Botha; B Holland, M O’Driscoll (capt); Dave O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.Replacements: W du Preez for Horan 57; S Archer for Botha 60; D Williams for O’Leary 65; L O’Dea for Murphy 74;

CARDIFF BLUES: C Czekaj; R Mustoe, G Evans, G Henson, T James; D Parks, R Rees; J Yapp, R Tyrell, S Andrews, C Hill, P Tito (capt), M Paterson, M Molitika, M Williams. Replacements: R Thomas for Tyrell 55; B Blair for Parks 58; C Sweney for Czekaj; M Cook for Hill 61.

Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales).

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