Keatley and Conway were hardly missed, as replacements Rory Scannell and Luke O’Dea warmed to their respective tasks.
It was O’Dea’s first Guinness Pro12 outing since May, while Scannell was making his first appearance in the number 10 jersey. To help him bed in, full-back and man-of-the-match JJ Hanrahan sometimes moved into the out-half slot, but Scannell’s performance still earned praise from coach Anthony Foley.
“Because Ian was in national camp, we trained Rory at 10 on Tuesday so we’d prepared for what happened. I suppose we could have moved JJ to 10 from the start but I think Rory has got something about him, how he runs and plays the game. He is a very composed individual and having him and JJ on the pitch gave us a lot more options.”
Scannell’s perseverance at a ruck deep inside his own half allowed Munster score a fine 60th-minute try that just about finished Cardiff off.
Scannell brilliantly snaffled possession from the visitors before skipper Denis Hurley moved swiftly away on the right-hand side. Keith Earls brilliantly carried the move on before Hanrahan and Billy Holland further changed direction. The try was scored by Jack O’Donoghue, who broke a tackle and twisted out of another to score on his debut.
No8 O’Donoghue’s fine overall display was also noted by Foley: “Jack is a prospect that we have known about for a while and it is now his time to get a run of games. It is grand being on the verge and having a ‘potential’ tag around your neck but you have to come out and play against the big teams. Cardiff today had a big pack and he stood up well, he scored his try and took it excellently.”
Foley also singled out Earls, who took another step forward after his long-term injury. “It has been like signing a new player, to be honest. We didn’t have him for the first half of the season. He adds a lot of threats out there.”
After a rather lacklustre opening half — Hanrahan kicked three penalties for Munster and Patchell three for Cardiff — the home side produced a high-octane second period that enthralled the 4,000 crowd.
O’Donoghue, Ronan O’Mahony and Hanrahan did the donkey work before Hurley powered his way over and Hanrahan added the extras, to make it 16-9.
That brilliant O’Donoghue try pushed the lead out to 23-9, though Blues rallied when flanker Josh Navidi wriggled over and Patchell converted to narrow the gap to seven.
But Hanrahan kicked a 76th-minute penalty and after good work from substitute Neil Cronin, Hanrahan broke away to send Ronan O’Mahony flying into the gap and over for the third try, which the full-back converted.
Foley admitted it would have been incomprehensible to have lost the first game at the redeveloped Musgrave Park. “Even the little touch of the photograph before the game that will go up on the wall, you don’t want to have that going up on the wall with a loss. You would much prefer having a win beside it.”
But he admitted it had been tough going in the first period “It took us a while to get into the game but I was happy enough after 40 and I knew at half-time it gave us something to go after in the second half. It was crucial to score first in the second half. I think once we got that, then the boys were able to kick on.
“I wanted us to increase accuracy and make sure when we kicked the ball, it was contestable and to make sure we didn’t give them yards to come back. They have a lot of very good players in Tuculet (Joaquin) and Ambrosini (Lucas) and these guys. These guys come back at you with pace so the easiest thing to do is make sure it is contestable, make sure we are putting pressure on the ball, and with that we forced mistakes in the backfield and managed to build momentum.
“The boys took the message on board. I thought they executed it. We played the game in the right areas, we played it in the right manner and we kicked when we needed to kick and we kept it in hand when we felt we could move it up the field that way.
“I think it is a big shift on from where we were a couple of months ago. Fellas are taking it on board how we want to play the game and seeing the way the boys are comfortable with ball in hand and playing through the tackle.”
Cardiff’s director of rugby Mark Hammett felt Munster were deserved winners.
“Even at nine-all, I didn’t think we had the energy around the contact area, around just how hard we were carrying the ball and how the ball wasn’t really being put out in front. They came out with more energy for the second half. “
Munster scorers: Tries: D. Hurley, O’Donoghue, R. O’Mahony. Cons: Hanrahan 3. Pens: Hanrahan 4.
MUNSTER: JJ Hanrahan; L O’Dea, K Earls, D Hurley (captain), R O’Mahony; R Scannell, D Williams; J Ryan, E Guinazu, BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan, B Holland; S Dougall, D O’Callaghan, J O’Donoghue.
Replacements: D Kilcoyne for Ryan (47), I Dineen for Earls, P Butler for Dougall (both 64), S Archer for Botha (66), D Sweetnam for O’Dea (67), N Scannell for Guinazu (71), N Croninn for Williamns, S Buckley for Dave O’Callaghan (both 77).
Cardiff Blues scorers: Tries: Navidi. Cons: Patchell. Pens: Patchell 3.
CARDIFF BLUES: J Tuculet, R Smith, C Allen, G Evans. L Amorosino, R Patchell, L Williams, S Hobbs, M Rees (captain), A Jones, M Cook, F Paulo, J Turnbull, J Navidi, M Vosawai.
Replacements: K Dacey for Rees (30, injured), T Davies for Hobbs (47), T Isaacs for Evans (56), T Filiose for Jones (55), T Knoyle for Williams (57), E Jenkins for Vosawai
Referee: L Linton (Scotland).