Reds hang on despite fightback
MUNSTER 16 CARDIFF BLUES 13
A rollercoaster week for Munster ended on a high last night when they clung on for a narrow win against Cardiff Blues in the Pro 12.
But Munster, who announced a one-year extension to Kiwi winger Doug Howlett's contract yesterday, failed to score in the second half and were pinned back by a Cardiff side that could have left with more than a losing bonus point.
Having led comfortably at half-time, 16-3, Munster were rocked back on their heels eight minutes after the break when Richard Mustoe crossed for a fine try in the corner.
Fly-half Dan Parks converted from a difficult angle and a game that Munster had been controlling with some ease, suddenly became a much more difficult assignment, and one that almost ended in disaster.
However, on a perfect night for goal-kicking, Parks fluffed his lines and pulled a 54th-minute penalty wide on the near side when three points would have put massive pressure on Munster.
Ian Keatley then missed a 59th-minute penalty as Munster nerves jittered and they were jangling five minutes later when replacement flyhalf Ben Blair converted a penalty.
Cardiff lost captain Paul Tito to the sin bin and while that led to a period of sustained pressure close to the visitors' line, the home side struggled to penetrate. However, they held on for a win that keeps them on course for the play-offs.
If Munster were affected by the news that head coach Tony McGahan will leave at the end of the season, it didn't show in their first-half performance.
Forwards coach Anthony Foley, favourite to succeed McGahan, will have been pleased with what he saw.
Scrum-half Tomas O'Leary was his usual busy self, while Keatley kicked 11 first-half points.
Cardiff had landed the opening points of the game when Parks kicked a fifth-minute penalty, but the visitors were demolished for the rest of the half.
Keatley's penalty in the ninth minute tied the game at 3-3 before Munster opened up for a superb try seven minutes later.
Simon Zebo took Mick O'Driscoll's pass at speed following a successful line-out and after the winger cut through the Cardiff defence, he spun the ball infield for Felix Jones to finish a stunning move. Keatley converted and added two more penalties before the break as Munster did pretty much as they wanted before their second-half slow-down.
Munster -- F Jones; J Murphy (L O'Dea, 74), D Barnes, L Mafi, S Zebo; I Keatley, T O'Leary (D Williams, 61); M Horan (W du Preez, 58), D Varley, BJ Botha (S Archer, 60); B Holland, M O'Driscoll; D O'Callaghan, T O'Donnell, J Coughlan.
Cardiff Blues -- C Czekaj (C Sweeney, 60); R Mustoe, G Evans, G Henson, T James; D Parks (B Blair, 59), R Rees; J Yapp, R Tyrell (R Thomas, 56), S Andrews; C Hill (M Cook, 61), P Tito; M Paterson, M Williams, M Molitika.
Ref -- L Hodges (WRU).