A sub-par performance would be good in golf but not in rugby! Maybe it was down to ten changes resulting in new combinations; maybe the new defence systems are still bedding in; maybe it was just a bad day at the office for a few players too many… Whatever the reason, the review won’t make for pleasant viewing. At least Cardiff also beat the Cheetahs in the previous round while the latter’s loss to Glasgow at the weekend ensured Munster remain in 2nd place for now.
Congrats to Glasgow as the first team to qualify for the top 6 across both Conferences. They should have a bye into the semi-finals as with just 5 rounds remaining they would need to have a melt-down to be overtaken at the top of Conference A. The Cheetahs on paper have an easier run-in including the visit of Munster in April and could well move up to 2nd place giving Munster a more difficult away play-off game against the 2nd place finisher in Conference B hence the 3 / 4 points lost this weekend could be costly.
The scoring timeline taken from the Pro14 site shows how much of a head start was given to Cardiff – the first off a set piece (lineout), another from a block-down and the third from another set-piece, this time off a scrum all within a 9 minute period. Munster managed to score in the 33rd minute from a maul finished off well by Chris Cloete and enjoyed a purple patch after the break. Cardiff conceded penalty after penalty to keep them out and it resulted in Matthew Rees being yellow carded. Cardiff opted to sacrifice a winger to bring on a replacement hooker and after Munster went through phase after phase to suck in the defence it resulted in creating space out wide and Stephen Fitzgerald was the beneficiary. “Game on “we thought, but that was as close as it got.
The first try started from a lineout in the 17th minute – a line break by the hooker Matthew Rees put Cardiff on the front foot. Ronan O’Mahony made the tackle to bring him down and seemed to hurt himself in the process. The Blues kept possession and while there was more than a suspicion of a knock-on in the following phases the referee was satisfied that the ball went backwards. Several phases later a pass to Macaulay Cook put him in space to score. It was not converted.
Five minutes later a long kick was not dealt with swiftly. While Munster got back to secure possession there was no pillar defence in place when Duncan Williams put in the box kick which was blocked down by his opposite number Lloyd Williams. The latter reacted quickly to chase the ball and score. Jarrod Evans converted and Munster were 12-0 down but worse was to come.
The restart went out on the full giving the Blues a scrum on halfway. From there the ball went quickly to the wing. A kick ahead by Lee-Lo was chased and secured by Lane who fended off Keatley to score in the corner. Another successful conversion made in 19-0 and gave Munster a mountain to climb.
The hosts could have had the bonus point wrapped up by half-time but Stephen Fitzgerald nailed the crucial tackle and the danger was cleared. An offside gave a penalty to put Munster on the scoreboard before half time. It was kicked to touch. GG secured the lineout and the maul formed. When brought down Chris Cloete released the ball and got to his feet before powering forward to get over the line and score.
From the restart Munster played with more intent, imposing themselves on the game and pinning Cardiff back in their own 22 for much of the third quarter. If they could have sustained that for the full forty minutes this could have been a very different write up.
Pressure chasing up the restart by Rory, Darren O’Shea and Rhys won a scrum on the Cardiff 22m. From there Rory, Robin and Chris carried with purpose and got Munster to the 5m line. Arnold was next to carry well, then Kilcoyne, Ryan, GG, Marshall, Keatley, through phase after phase. Cardiff conceded a penalty for a high tackle and Keatley put it between the posts to make it 19-8 after 43 minutes. A few minutes later Darren O’Shea claimed the lineout and the maul made some ground before the ball went wide to Fitzgerald. Copeland carried well then Grobler and Kilcoyne. Another penalty was conceded by the hosts which Keatley kicked to touch. Another lineout, this time taken at the back by Copeland and another maul formed. The breakaway by Kilcoyne, Marshall and Williams crossed the line but could not ground the ball as a Cardiff player got underneath it. From the 5m scrum Munster went again and kept pummeling the Cardiff defence. Another penalty, the time for offside resulted in a yellow card for Matthew Rees. Munster took the scrum forcing Cardiff to bring on a replacement hooker. The pack took it on. Daren O’Shea came close before they went to the backs. Rory Scannell could have gone for the line himself but put Stephen Fitzgerald through to score.
Cardiff saw out the rest of the sinbinning period without further concessions. Replacements came onto both sides and whenever Munster seemed to be making progress they were penalized. Jean Kleyn was penalized for not releasing, James Cronin for off his feet which seemed harsh as it was a Blues player who had turned him so he went off his feet. That led to a penalty kicked by Evans to put 10 points between the team and a losing bonus point out of reach. Hence we were surprised when a penalty awarded on 77 minutes was kicked to touch. Munster lost the lineout to compound the issue and we wondered if that was the last chance as the clock ticked down. Cardiff had kicked into touch but when Grobler claimed the lineout it was Cardiff who were awarded the scrum put in when Munster failed to use the ball from the subsequent melee. Somehow Hart came away with the ball and passed to Dave O’Callaghan in support who took play almost up to the 5m line. Another penalty conceded by the Blues as the clock reached 80 minutes gave Tyler Bleyendaal a final opportunity to take the three points on offer and the more important losing bonus point by making it 25-18.
Stats from ESPN show that the 10-1 advantage Munster enjoyed in the penalty stakes was over-turned in the final quarter when they were pinged time and again to end up 12-6
CARDIFF BLUES: R Williams; Summerhill (Myhill 53-63), Smith, Lee-Lo, Lane; Evans, L Williams (T Williams 66); G Jenkins (capt) (Gill 61), Rees (Myhill 63), Filise (Lewis 55), Earle (Turnbull 61), Davies, Cook (Robinson 74), E Jenkins, N Williams. Replacements not used: Shingler, Edwards.
MUNSTER: Stephen Fitzgerald; Darren Sweetnam, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony (Zebo 56); Ian Keatley (Tyler Bleyendaal 61), Duncan Williams (James Hart 70); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin 54), Rhys Marshall (Mike Sherry 62), John Ryan (Stephen Archer 54), Gerbrandt Grobler, Darren O’Shea (Jean Kleyn 54), Jack O’Donoghue (capt), Chris Cloete, Robin Copeland (Dave O’Callaghan 70).
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
As you can imagine the mood in the River Bar with the Munster supporters was partly disbelief at the basic errors and defensive frailties shown. The referee also came in for criticism particularly for the first Cardiff try with the suspected knock-on and forward pass and the late flurry of penalties which killed off any hope in the final ten minutes.
Positives included seeing more players returning from injury including Tyler while others got game time. The individual errors are fixable and hopefully the defensive system failings are also. I got some positive comments about yet another TV appearance at the Zebre game last week 🙂 Fame at last – it would be fun to be a fly on the wall when that happens but bi-location is not possible yet..
I’ll be heading to the game in Cork on Friday. Glasgow will be missing a lot of players due to the resumption of the Six Nations but Munster can’t afford another slip-up. It is important to get back into the winning habit before the trip to Edinburgh who are in fine form at the moment and just edged ahead of Ulster into the coveted Top 3 in Conference B. Hope to see some of you there.
Daryl Feehely’s photos of the game and supporters are here – it will be interesting to share Daryl’s answers in the next Q&A feature due March 9th when there is no game to report on.