O'Gara passes fitness test as Reds snatch late winner
Cardiff Blues 18
Ronan O'Gara handed Ireland a boost ahead of the autumn internationals after coming through Munster's slender victory unscathed.
The veteran out-half was released from Ireland's training camp to rejoin Munster and prove his fitness ahead of the opening Test against South Africa.
He has been sidelined since suffering a hamstring injury while on Heineken Cup duty against Racing Metro last month but showed no ill effects last night.
O'Gara slotted back in at No 10, with Ian Keatley moving to inside-centre. Keatley, along with Felix Jones, also had the opportunity to impress Declan Kidney ahead next weekend's Test.
Keatley was hugely impressive in the first half and created the opening for Tommy O'Donnell's opening try that helped Munster to a 10-3 half-time lead.
But he was exposed in defence in the second half as the hosts launched a comeback kick-started by Daf Hewitt's touchdown.
Fireworks thundered around the Arms Park in the moments before kick-off and the wounded Blues made an explosive start following a chargedown.
Tom James launched the attack and the Blues had the opportunity to open the scoring when Jones was penalised at the breakdown.
Tovey was off-target and Keatley cleared but he made no mistake from in front of the posts when Stephen Archer was pinged for offside.
But Munster burst into life and quickly hit back with Keatley at the fore, the centre making the two telling touches as the men in red launched a devastating counter-attack. And he released O'Donnell with a superb try-scoring off-load out of the tackle.
O'Gara converted and piled on the pressure moments later with a kick to the corner but he soon became the villain after being sent to the sin-bin.
Munster launched a rolling maul but Cardiff's Wexford-born No 8 Robin Copeland popped up with the ball and raced clear. He offloaded to Josh Navidi and O'Gara was penalised and shown yellow for cynically coming in from the side.
The hosts should have regained the lead while O'Gara was in the bin, after Dan Fish beat Duncan Williams to a kick through. But Tom Williams was unable to hold onto Gavin Evans' pass and Munster escaped unscathed.
Within minutes of returning to the pitch O'Gara redeemed himself with a second penalty, after another Keatley break, and the scores remained unchanged 10-3 at the break.
But the Blues once again came out firing and they crossed the whitewash for their opening try within minutes of kick-off. Keatley had enjoyed a hugely impressive opening half but he went missing in defence as Hewitt sliced through from a set-piece move to score.
Replacement out-half Ceri Sweeney made no mistake from the tee and levelled the scores.
The Welsh region surged in front on 58 minutes after Jones was caught for not releasing, but their lead did not last long as Munster instantly responded.
Following a sustained period of pressure Butler hit a flat O'Gara pass and crashed through Campese Mafu and Copeland to canter home.
O'Gara bisected the posts as Munster reasserted their dominance with a 17-13 lead but it did not last long as Cardiff continued to capitalise on mistakes.
But Laulala stepped through James with just three minutes to spare to snatch a late victory.
Cardiff Blues -- D Fish; T Williams (O Williams 57), G Evans, D Hewitt, T James; J Tovey (C Sweeney 45), L Jones; C Ma'afu (S Hobbs 60), R Williams, T Filise, L Reed, J Down, L Hamilton, J Navidi, R Copeland. Reps: A Kyriacou, R Harford, M Cook, T Young, R Lewis.
Munster -- F Jones; D Howlett (capt), C Laulala, I Keatley, L O'Dea; R O'Gara, D Williams (P Stringer 52); M Horan (J Ryan 60), M Sherry, S Archer; D Foley (I Nagle 60), B Holland; Dave O'Callaghan, S Dougall (P Butler 24), T O'Donnell. Reps: D Varley, W du Preez, D Barnes, J Murphy..
Ref -- Andrew McMenemy (SRU).