Munster 23 Cardiff Blues 24: Munster lost their opening home game of the Guinness PRO12 campaign in Cork last night and although it was a narrow defeat the failure to win on their own territory will have quickly eradicated the feelgood factor that had permeated through the province this summer.
New director of rugby Rassie Erasmus made winning at home one of the cornerstones of his mission to get Munster back on the road to success but that objective fell by the wayside at the first hurdle as they were edged out by an accomplished and upwardly mobile Cardiff side.
Two converted first-half tries from wing Tom James had been cancelled out by Andrew Conway and replacement prop Dave Kilcoyne either side of the interval but though Ian Keatley kicked all 13 points available to him to keep his team on terms, Munster succumbed to a killer blow 12 minutes from time when Dan Fish scored a try converted by Gareth Anscombe.
Munster had got their season off to an encouraging start with a valuable away win at Scarlets last Saturday. Back on home soil, it was Cardiff who showed the ruthless edge, not merely asking questions of Munster’s much-heralded defence under incoming coach Jacques Nienaber as Scarlets had but scything through a thin red line.
Eight minutes in James ran a great line to break between Niall Scannell and Darren Sweetnam then wrongfooted last man Keatley to open the scoring under the posts, Anscombe converting.
It was short-lived with Munster once again taking maximum points from their first foray into the opposition 22 two minutes later, the impressive Sweetnam’s strength in the carry followed by a good offload for full-back Conway to run onto and over the try line from 10 metres out, Keatley converting to level the scores. It was nip and tuck from then, Anscombe edging Cardiff in front with a 15th-minute penalty, then missing another seven minutes after that before Keatley slotted one of his own just before the half hour after a good period of possession and some strong, physical carrying from Munster.
With half-time approaching a draw was a fair reflection but Cardiff stole another march, again through James as the Blues struck from lineout ball on the Munster 10-metre line. Anscombe converted and Cardiff went in at the break 17-10 ahead.
There was further disruption for Erasmus when he lost the services of inside centre Rory Scannell at half-time, replaced by Cian Bohane, and then Ireland flanker Tommy O’Donnell, both to apparent injury, although it gave the director of rugby a chance to introduce CJ Stander for his first minutes of the campaign.
Watched by Ireland coaches Andy Farrell and Greg Feek, Stander continued where O’Donnell had left off, taking the game to Cardiff as Munster dominated possession in the second-half.
The Blues had some big guns in reserve themselves and 10 minutes in brought on a trio of Wales forwards including national captain Sam Warburton, who replaced Nick Williams. Yet though the visitors at last ventured into opposition territory it was Munster who got the first points of the half, with a Keatley penalty, though not before lock Dave Foley became the latest casualty, leaving the field with his right arm supported in sluing fashioned from his red jersey.
Still, with the deficit down to four points with 25 minutes still to play, Munster had the bit between their teeth. Having engineered a lineout inside the Cardiff 22, the home side won a ruck penalty and Keatley kicked to the corner. From five metres out they went to the maul and when the ball came out Goggin and then Stander drove towards the posts.
It took three more attempts before they got their reward, with the newly-arrived loosehead replacement Dave Kilcoyne adding the suitable heft to push Munster in front, Keatley converting to give the home side a 20-17 lead on 62 minutes.
Yet the cheers were silenced by Cardiff as Lee-Lo again caused havoc in midfield to start a move finished by Fish, Steven Shingler’s conversion restoring their lead at 24-20 with 12 minutes remaining. It was quickly reduced to a single point when Keatley slotted a 72nd-minute penalty.
The game was on a knife-edge but Cardiff managed their lead extremely well, pegging Munster in their own half to run down the clock.
A Conway; D Sweetnam, D Goggin, R Scannell (C Bohane, h-t), R O’Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams (T O’Leary, 66); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne, 54), N Scannell (D Casey, 66), J Ryan (B Scott, 72); D Foley (D Ryan, 51), B Holland - captain; D O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell (CJ Stander, 45), J O’Donoghue.
Replacement not used:
D Fish; A Cuthbert, C Allen, R Lee-Lo, T James (M Morgan, 67); G Anscombe (Shingler, 67), T Williams (L Williams, 53); G Jenkins – captain (R Gill, 49), K Dacey (M Rees, 58), T Filise (S Andrews, 49); G Earle (J Turnbull, 62), M Cook; J Navidi, E Jenkins, N Williams (S Warburton, 49).
Ian Davies (Wales)
Edinburgh 20 Scarlets 9
Newport Gwent D’gons 11 Zebre (6)
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved