Munster 38 Cardiff Blues 27
MUNSTER went to the top of Conference B of the Pro14 with a high scoring victory over previously unbeaten Cardiff Blues in an entertaining first Pro14 Monday night fixture at Thomond Park.
The visitors opened the scoring in the second minute when Samoan outside centre Rey Lee-Lo walked over for the simplest of tries after Cardiff out-half Jarrod Evans had split the Munster centre pairing of Rory Scannell and Dan Goggin too easily from a first phase move off a lineout.
Three minutes later his centre partner Willis Halaholo was sin-binned for a cynical trip on Goggin and from the resultant attacking lineout Munster struck straight back, with No. 8 Gavin Coombes performing his close in pick and drive party piece to score a try that Ben Healy converted.
Evans kicked Cardiff back into the lead with a penalty in the 17th minute, but 10 minutes later Skibbereen’s Coombes crashed over from close range once more after incessant Munster pressure on the Blues line.
Evans kept Cardiff in touch almost immediately from a penalty, after captain Billy Holland was pinned for a high tackle in front of his own posts, but his opposite number Healy had the last word in the opening half when his 40th-minute penalty gave Munster a 17-13 half time lead.
The second half started with Munster having a lot of territory, and after Healy had struck the post from a penalty in the 50th minute they registered their third try just two minutes later from an effective rolling maul, with hooker Kevin O’Byrne being in possession when the Munster packed crashed over the Cardiff line.
This time Healy split the posts with the conversion and Munster had themselves an 11-point lead.
This lead did not last long, however, as the ever dangerous Evans stepped around Scannell once more in the 55th minute, before putting his right-wing Aled Summerhill in for a brilliant try, with Evans then adding the extras.
Munster struck straight back, with a 59th minute try from blindside Jack O’Donoghue, after a couple of huge carries from the impressive Coombes once more, as Munster secured the four-try bonus point with a quarter to spare.
While the bonus point was in the bag, the match certainly wasn’t, and more poor defending in the Munster midfield allowed Cardiff in, with the powerful inside centre Halaholo swatting aside Scannell and Craig Casey to score, and to once again make it a four-point game.
The tit for tat nature of the scoring continued with the try of the game being scored by replacement out-half JJ Hanrahan in the 68th minute, after some wonderful handling by Damien de Allende and Scannell, in particular, which finally killed off the Cardiff challenge.
Scorers for Munster: Healy (4 cons), Coombes (2 tries), Hanrahan (1 try, 1 con), O’Byrne, O’Donoghue (1 try each).
Cardiff: Evans (2 pens, 3 cons), Lee-Lo, Summerhill, Halaholo (1 try each).
MUNSTER: Haley, Nash, Goggin, Scannell, Sweetnam, Healy, Casey, Coombes, Hodnett, O’Donoghue, Holland, F. Wycherley, Archer, O’Byrne, Cronin.
Subs: de Allende for Goggin (29), Marshall for O’Byrne (60), Cloete and Hanrahan for Hodnett and Healy (64), J. Wycherley and Salanoa for Cronin and Archer (70), McCarthy for Casey (71).
CARDIFF: Morgan, Summerhill, Lee-Lo, Halaholo, Amos, Evans, Jones, Robinson, Botham, Ratti, Thornton, Murphy, Arhip, Dacey, Domachowski.
Subs: Lawrence for Thornton (41), Thyer for Domachowski (63), Moore, Lewis and Smith for Botham, Dacey and Halaholo (70), Tovey and Hill for Evans and Jones (72), Dacey for Moore (73).
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy).