Porous Munster feeling the Blues as Fish bites late
Munster 23 Cardiff Blues 24
Green shoots last week but red faces last night at Irish Independent Park.
Munster fluffed their lines, shipping three soft tries which ultimately left them with too much chasing to do; at times, it seemed they didn't know what form the chase should take.
Two soft first-half concessions put them on the back foot but, inspired by their back three, as we entered the third quarter, it looked as if Munster had done just enough at the other end to get out the right side of the result..
Then, just as we expected them to squeeze the life out of Cardiff, Dan Fish scored a soft, breakaway try to claim the lead for a fourth time. Ian Keatley's late kick gave them hope, of the false kind.
Cardiff's offloading game soon had the home side under the pump and their eighth-minute lead was hardly a surprise.
Munster's line had already been breached a couple of times before they defended too narrowly on their right-hand side, allowing James to arrow through a gaping hole between Darren Sweetnam and Niall Scannell before Keatley was easily sidestepped.
Gareth Anscombe mopped up the extras but Munster, as they were last week in West Wales, are already showing they are nothing if not economical, despite the tackling lapses amidst their defensive line-speed.
Keatley provided the inspiration; a delicate jink through allowing Sweetnam to dance around a gaggle of defenders who, instead of tackling the men in red, tackled each other; the former Cork hurler, parading big-ball rather than small-ball skills, then offloaded to the inrushing full-back Andrew Conway who had the easiest of finishes.
Keatley added the extras to square it, 7-7, in the tenth minute. A near intercept by the out-half led to a scrum from which Ian Davies harshly penalised Munster tight-head John Ryan; Anscombe punished for 10-7.
Munster's back three were providing plenty of thrills as the action - and the ball - spewed back and forth; there were lots of errors but at least lots of intent on a perfect night for running rugby.
Jack O'Donoghue, his only error, was pinged at a breakdown, but Anscombe's long-distance effort stayed to the right-hand side of the posts. Munster's defence was much tighter; now they needed some attacking flow.
The found it; from Holland's free-kick rumble, Keatley fired a lovely pass to impressive Limerick youngster Dan Goggin, who offloaded neatly to Ronan O'Mahony; a few rucks later, Nick Williams flopped on the wrong side, which usually means it takes him an age to rise.
Keatley converted the penalty on the half-hour to level matters a second time. Cardiff were denied a try by the TMO but they would not be denied; from a 10-metre lineout conceded by a poor Duncan Williams box-kick, they tore Munster's midfield to shreds with two passes and a couple of dummy runners, Anscombe to Rey Lee-Lo before James ran in an unopposed second.
Apart from the silence, the anguish from Munster defence coach Jacques Nienaber was all that could be heard.
Munster bristled with intent but spurned an early second-half chance as they went back to basics a tad; Cardiff repelled them. Munster occasionally tried to go wide but spluttered.
All the while, they coughed up players - Rory Scannell, Tommy O'Donnell and Dave Foley - to injury in a grim third quarter, rescued when, with CJ Stander in the back-row, Munster won a second successive scrum penalty.
Keatley duly reduced the margin to four, 13-17, in the 55th minute.
Great pressure from Niall Scannell on the floor sent Munster, still fitful, to touch; they scented blood. It took them a while to taste it but, patiently, they kept rumbling, Cardiff kept tackling but Dave Kilcoyne found the gap.
Keatley's conversion, in the 62nd minute, was tapped over to give his side a lead, 20-17, they hoped would not relent; fittingly, his clever kick had set the stage for the territorial ambush.
With 15 minutes left, Anscombe had a chance to level as the scrum advantage tilted left; so to did his kick. Then, from Dan Fish, the sting in the tale. The script will need to change quickly.
Munster - A Conway; D Sweetnam, D Goggin, R Scannell (C Bohane h-t), R O'Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams (T O'Leary 66); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 56), N Scannell (D Casey 67), J Ryan (B Scott 72); D Foley (D Ryan 52), B Holland capt, D O'Callaghan, T O'Donnell (CJ Stander 45), J O'Donoghue.
Cardiff Blues - D Fish; A Cuthbert, C Allen, R Lee-Lo, T James (M Morgan 67); G Anscombe, T Williams (L Williams 54); G Jenkins capt (R Gill 49), K Dacey (M Rees 55); T Filise (S Andrews 49), G Earle (J Turnbull 63), M Cook, J Navidi, E Jenkins, N Williams (S Warburton 49).
Ref - I Davies (WRU)