Cardiff Blues 15 – 16 Munster

25 Mar


Munster withstood a spirited Cardiff Blues display to hold on for a precious 16-15 win and dent the Welsh region’s hopes of securing a Magners League play-off spot.

Denis Leamy’s first-half try and 11 points from Ronan O’Gara’s boot proved enough for the visitors, who stretched their lead at the top of the league to a commanding 13 points.

The Blues welcomed back their Six Nations stars, but even a late cameo from Wales centre Jamie Roberts was not enough to conquer the Irish giants.

Dai Young’s men now face an uphill battle in their bid to make the play-offs, sitting as they do in fifth place with just one more home fixture to play in their five remaining games this season.

Leigh Halfpenny kicked the Blues into an early 3-0 lead after some fluid phase play, but it was not long before the visitors began to assert themselves on the game.

Ireland lock Paul O’Connell broke free on the left wing, before Tony Buckley barged his way into the Blues’ 22.

For all the menace and power of the Munster pack, however, it was the guile of their backline which prized open the home side’s defence.

Keith Earls tore through the Blues’ defensive line, and although the Irish flyer was caught by Halfpenny, Dennis Leamy was on hand to gather the offload and force his way over the line.

With John Yapp sent to the bin, the Blues soon found themselves on the back foot, and O’Gara turned the screw with two penalties to give Munster a 13-6 lead.

The Blues lost another front-rower to a yellow card but, on this occasion, Sam Hobbs was joined in the bin by Munster hooker Damien Varley after a grisly punch-up.

A shuddering hit from Blues lock Michael Paterson on O’Gara brought about a turnover, and as Halfpenny struck his fourth penalty to reduce Munster’s lead to 13-12, the home side sensed their fortunes may about to change.

The Blues began the second half brightly, with Dafydd Hewitt piercing the visitors’ backline from a cutting angle.

The quicksilver Earls again broke free, though a smothering Casey Laulala tackle doused the flames of another dangerous Munster attack.

Expectation rippled through the Cardiff City Stadium as Jamie Roberts and Dan Parks entered the fray, and it was the latter who made the most telling first impression, slotting over a drop-goal with little backlift and minimal fuss.

It was a deserved lead, but short-lived, as O’Gara struck back with a penalty to put Munster ahead at 16-15.

Martyn Williams showed glimpses of his vintage best, showing brutish strength to shrug off a tackle before offloading with cherubic grace.

True to the nature of the Welsh back-rower’s style of play, the game became broken and loose, with both sides allowed to mount attacks.

Roberts twice ripped through the Munster line, but support was lacking on both occasions.

The visitors kept their heads to force the Blues back into their own half, and it was Munster’s slick professionalism which ultimately sealed the victory.

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