Earls near back to his best as Munster blow Blues away
Munster 33 Cardiff Blues 16
MUNSTER'S sparkling new ground was greeted with a home win first time out, but it was the freshness of their approach to the game that pleased the home support most.
Tries from captain Denis Hurley, Jack O'Donoghue, in his first start for the province, and the ever-improving Ronan O'Mahony meant Munster started life at the Irish Independent Park with intent.
The game was full of hard hits from the men in red and some brilliant running from deep, but it was one of the old boys that shone brightest. Just four games into his return from injury Keith Earls again showed the type of form that could see him play a part in Ireland's Six Nations campaign yet. His passing was on the mark, he ran with the ball like a kid in the playground and he hit all he physical elements of the game too. Coach Anthony Foley is thrilled to have him back at his best.
"It has been like signing a new player, to be honest with you. We didn't have him for the first half of the season. He adds a lot of threats out there," said Foley.
"People have to respect him, but he does a lot of the dirty work as well. He gets into the breakdowns. He turns up, he presents the ball and he is willing to work hard for the others around him.
"He is obviously a very talented player, but he has also an excellent work-rate in what he is doing."
O'Donoghue probably stole some of Earls' thunder as he transferred his abrasive style into the Munster first team.
His try after 60 minutes came off the back of a typical Earls break, but the nitty gritty duties were also excellent from the Waterford man. He's like a cross between Foley and Peter O'Mahony, and the boss looked satisfied with the youngster.
"Jack is a prospect that we have known for a while and it is now his time to get a run of games."
After Munster's exit from Europe it was expected that the likes of O'Donoghue and Rory Scannell would get their chance. Scannell and Luke O'Dea were late call-ups when Ian Keatley and his house-mate Andrew Conway pulled out because of flu, but injuries to CJ Stander and Robin Copeland probably eased the way in for O'Donoghue.
The news doesn't look good for Copeland, who is expected to be ruled out for the season if he undergoes shoulder surgery this week.
"We are still awaiting. He is seeing the surgeon again on Monday of next week and hopefully we will get a decision out of that on what way we need to go forward with," said Foley.
The manner in which Munster powered to the win after the restart bodes well for the next few weeks though. They were level at 9-9 at the break following three JJ Hanrahan penalties, and after Irish international Dave Kilcoyne made a successful comeback from a knee injury with an impressive 30 minutes, Munster pulled clear to capture the all-important win.
Munster - JJ Hanrahan; L O'Dea (D Sweetnam 67), K Earls (I Dineen 64), D Hurley, R O'Mahony; R Scannell, D Williams (N Cronin 77); J Ryan (D Kilcoyne 48), E Guinazu (N Scannell 71), BJ Botha (S Archer 66); Donncha O'Callaghan, B Holland; S Dougall (P Butler 64), Dave O'Callaghan (S Buckley 77), J O'Donoghue.
Cardiff Blues - J Tuculet, R Smith, C Allen, G Evans (T Isaacs 55), L Amorosino, R Patchell, L Williams (T Knoyle 58); S Hobbs (T Davies 29-35 temp & 49), M Rees (K Dacey 31), A Jones (T Filise 55); M Cook, F Paulo; J Turnbull, J Navidi, M Vosawai (E Jenkins 63).
Ref - L Linton (SRU)