'Attitude and heart' drive Munster's latest escape act
Cardiff 24 Munster 28
On one side of the passageway which separates the Millennium Stadium from the Arms Park, hundreds of powerful bulbs were shining on Saturday, trying to persuade the grass to grow on the pitch where Munster have enjoyed their two greatest days in the Heineken Cup.
On the other side, on the plastic pitch in the Arms Park, the latest crop of Munster players were making sure the grass was not growing under their feet as they produced the sort escape act that seems to be just part of their DNA.
Cardiff Blues, with just one league win this season despite several promising showings, enjoyed the bulk of the possession and chances but lacked the cutting edge to transfer all of that into a match-winning formula.
Munster, with just four survivors from the side which defeated Saracens, somehow managed to keep their noses in front for over an hour despite being under the cosh.
There were two reasons why they managed to stay in the game: the first was an excellent defence, with the likes of player of the season so far CJ Stander, ex-Cardiff back-rower Robin Copeland, debutant centre Rory Scannell and old dogs for the hard road like Donncha O'Callaghan, BJ Botha and Billy Holland, superb.
And then there was JJ Hanrahan, getting a chance at out-half; while he probably needs more game-time there to step up a notch, his flawless kicking got Munster over the line.
Another former Rockwell College lad Paddy Butler may have scored the winning the try but it was Hanrahan's seven from seven, from different angles and distances in windy conditions, which was the cornerstone of this fifth win in a row in all competitions.
Man of the match Manoa Vosawai looked set to point Cardiff towards victory when he crossed off the base of a scrum on 62 minutes but after Hanrahan restored parity and then Gareth Davies put the Blues in front with a penalty, Munster strung eight phases together and Butler dashed over with three minutes left. Johnny Holland made a late snatch job all the more unlikely when he added the tricky conversion.
"We played with pace at that stage," said coach Anthony Foley about the match-winner. "That was the thing that we wanted to do, to up the tempo, create multi-phase, get the ball, shift a couple of passes and take them on the wider channels where their stragglers were. We eventually got to that and Paddy took it well.
"It was one of those ones where you hang in there. There were a lot of things going wrong. I thought the boys functioned below standard but you can't disregard the commitment and the heart and the attitude.
"They stuck at their task. It wasn't pretty at times but we got into the right area of the pitch when it counted and Paddy did well to score."
Six kicks from Hanrahan had Munster 18-14 in front at the break after Argentinian wing Lucas Amorosino got the opening try, but Munster struck a huge psychological blow when they defended and turned over four Cardiff scrums five metres out early in the second half.
"That was a crucial moment around the time of the scrums down the left corner and we managed to get out of there. It alleviated a lot of pressure and that was a big turning point," added Foley.
The win brings Foley's first block of games as Munster coach to a successful end, having started with problems on and off the field.
The home defeats to Edinburgh and Ospreys inevitably drew a lot of comment but they have now won all four games on their travels and are sitting well in both the Pro12, where they are fourth, and top of their pool in the Champions Cup.
"I have said it to the boys inside the dressing-room that we are not in the performance business, we are in the result business," said Foley.
"The wins that we have gotten since Zebre have propelled us up the table and given us a certain position in Europe.
"But that is all it is for us at the moment. We accumulate, we drive to play better, get better I think that will happen. As a young coaching group we are finding that things don't happen as quickly as we would like. It is just about being patient and change will happen eventually."
He said they would take a short break before turning their full attention to the next block of games which will, of course, centre around their twin Champions Cup dates with Clermont Auvergne.
"We take the following week off and we get ready for Dragons. It is important that we stay together for the week. We train hard next week and make sure we are ready for the next block. The next block is a crucial block in terms of Europe and the Guinness Pro12," added Foley.
Cardiff - R Patchell (D Fish 52); R Smith, A Thomas, G Evans, L Amorosino; G Davies, L Williams (L Jones 71); S Hobbs, M Rees (K Dacey 58), A Jones; J Hoeata (M Cook 61), F Paulo; J Turnbull, J Navidi (E Jenkins 71), M Vosawai.
Munster - J Murphy; A Conway (R O'Mahony 60), A Smith, R Scannell, G van den Heever; JJ Hanrahan (J Holland 74), D Williams (C Sheridan 60); J Ryan, K O'Byrne (E Guinazu 52), BJ Botha (S Archer 65); D O'Callaghan, B Holland; CJ Stander, P Butler, R Copeland.
Ref - M Mitrea (Italy)