Sunday 17 November 2019

Table-toppers Munster dig deep to battle back twice

Munster 35 Cardiff 27

Ian Keatley: Scored try and five conversion
Ian Keatley: Scored try and five conversion
CJ Stander, Munster, is tackled by Dan Fish
Mike Sherry, Munster, scores his side's first try despite the efforts of Garyn Smith

John Fallon

Munster may be showing the old trait of doing things the hard way, but unlike last season when they lost two home games in September in Anthony Foley's first campaign, they twice came from behind yesterday at Irish Independent Park to go top of the table.

Cardiff, playing their third match in Ireland while the Arms Park is utilised for World Cup activities, looked set to finally get a win after losses to Leinster and Connacht, but Foley's men got their act together to make it four wins from four.

The introduction of Tomás O'Leary for his first game in over three years for Munster added spark in the second half as he marked his return from London Irish with an extremely busy cameo.

Hooker Mike Sherry grabbed a brace and three former Leinster players, Ian Keatley, Jordan Coghlan and Andrew Conway, also crossed to ensure Cardiff left without even a bonus point.

That scenario did not look like developing in the opening half when Cardiff opened up a 10-0 lead after 24 minutes despite Rhys Patchell missing three penalties in the opening ten minutes. Munster struggled but they got their act together and were rewarded when Francis Saili threw a wide pass for Sherry to get over in the left after Gerhard van den Heever had been stopped after coming across to the right wing.

Munster hit the front for the first time three minutes from the break after Dave Kilcoyne was stopped short, but when Duncan Williams recycled the ball, Keatley stepped inside Gavin Evans to score. His conversion made it 14-10, and the crowd of 6,124 expected last year's runners-up to push on from there. But Cardiff punished slack defending for Richard Smith to score down the left, with Patchell adding the difficult conversion to make it 17-14 at the break.

The home crowd expected an immediate Munster response after the break, but it was Cardiff who struck to again go 10 points in front when centre Tom Isaacs got through the tackles of Sherry and Jack O'Donoghue to score.

Foley responded by bringing in fresh legs, and O'Leary - given a big cheer on his return - made the biggest impact, with Sherry getting his second try and Keatley converting to cut the gap to three after 54 minutes. A sustained bout of pressure seemed destined to deliver the lead score, but James Cronin was pinged for a knock-on over the line.

However, Munster got an edge in the resultant scrum and drove Cardiff backwards for the most recent arrival from Leinster Coghlan to pounce. Keatley converted to put Munster four ahead 18 minutes from time.

Patchell pulled back a penalty nine minutes from time, but Cardiff left empty-handed when Conway finished off a fine move involving O'Leary, Keatley and Saili to seal a fourth win on the spin for Munster to send them top.

They travel to play second place Scarlets in a tasty encounter next Friday night.

Scorers - Munster: M Sherry (2), I Keatley, J Coghlan, A Conway tries; I Keatley 5 cons. Cardiff: T Knoyle, R Smith, T Isaacs tries; R Patchell 2 pens, 3 cons.

Munster: A Conway (D Johnston 74); S Monahan, F Saili, R Scannell (D Hurley 71), G van den Heever; I Keatley, D Williams (T O'Leary 52); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 52), M Sherry (N Scannell 70), BJ Botha (J Ryan 74); M Chisholm (R Copeland 71), D Foley; D O'Callaghan, J O'Donoghue (J Coghlan 52), CJ Stander.

Cardiff: D Fish; G Smith, T Isaacs, G Evans (G Davies 58), R Smith; R Patchell, T Knoyle; S Hobbs, M Rees (K Dacey 50), C Mitchell (D Lewis 78); L Reed (M Cook 65), J Down; J Turnbull, E Jenkins (J Groves 52), M Vosawai.

Referee: I Davies (WRU)

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