Cardiff claimed the victory in a brilliant game under the lights at the Arms Park on Friday night, despite going behind early on and having to fight back. A number of excellent individual performances contributed to the win alongside an extremely dominant pack as we never really looked like losing the lead once we went ahead despite the scoreline.
Danny Wilson had named a fairly experimental side, with no specialist second rows as Josh Turnbull and Cam Dolan packed down at lock, while Josh Navidi was picked ahead of Manoa Vosawai at number eight. In the backs, Garyn Smith made his first start since Christmas at outside centre with Aled Summerhill moving onto the wing to make space. Against a strong Munster team it was a risk, but a necessary one as players need to be given a chance to prove they are good enough for next season’s squad.
It seemed like the team selection had backfired early on as Munster started the stronger of the sides. They made hard yards and sent our defence into scramble mode which eventually coughed up a penalty, before similar attacks saw winger Darren Sweetman touch down in the corner. Ian Keatley missed that kick but we were still 8-0 down in 10 minutes with shades of Glasgow and Ulster returning. A Rhys Patchell penalty put us on the board as the scrum showed early signs of dominance, but the opening 20/25 minutes was slow once again.
Things did begin to change though, Dan Fish spilling a golden chance before we failed to make lineouts five metres out successful. Eventually though we made the breakthrough when Lloyd Williams went sniping, put a flat pass into Josh Navidi who broke a tackle and pulled in the full back to feed Macauley Cook to score. Patchell’s conversion put us ahead, and it stayed that way thanks to a Blaine Scully interception when Munster tried to hit straight back.
The score stayed 10-8 through half-time before Patchell and Keatley traded penalties at the start of the second half. It took a moment of magic 10 minutes into the second period to get back over the try line as we pulled a move straight off the training ground. From a lineout on Munster’s five-metre line the ball went to Cam Dolan at the front who dropped it down to Ellis Jenkins wrapping around the blindside of the set piece to feed Matthew Rees who went over in the corner. Patchell’s conversion put us nine points ahead, but the lead was cut when Mike Sherry benefitted in a rolling maul from the away side.
Keatley converted to bring the Cork side back to two points behind, but almost straight from the restart we were back out in front. Munster brought the kick off down and tried to move it wide, but Garyn Smith had either ideas as he ripped the ball cleanly from replacement prop Dave Kilcoyne and strolled over the line. Replacement Johnny Holland kept the away side in touch with a penalty but with five minutes to go the game was made safe as Jarrod Evans, on at fly-half, took the ball flat at first receiver and fed Patchell to hit the line from deep and score the bonus point try. Patchell looking dangerous from full-back again? What a surprise.
Munster put themselves right in with a chance of a losing bonus point in the last minute as they rumbled towards the line, Cardiff conceded the penalty and Jack O’Donoghue tap and burrowed over for the the try. Holland’s coversion put them to within seven points and they tried to run from deep to put late pressure on our defensive line, but a penalty for going off the feet gave young Jarrod Evans the chance to deny them any points, and deny them he did. 37-28 at full-time and a fully deserved bonus point victory for Cardiff.
After leaving it so late to start playing in the previous few weeks it was proof that if we play well for the majority of the game then we are capable of beating anyone. That doesn’t mean we have to play for 80 minutes at the top of our game, just like Friday proves it only needs an hour, even just over a half of rugby, to come out on top. Player positives included Garyn Smith coming back into the team and playing well at outside centre, and the second row partnership of Cam Dolan and Josh Turnbull worked well if lacking a bit of bulk.
Plenty of positives going forward from a win that puts us level on points with the Ospreys and on a good footing heading right into the business end of the season. Treviso at home are next up next Friday and a win there gives a real chance of finishing above our West Wales rivals, and even with a distinctly outside possibility of making the top six. All we can do is keeping on winning, come on Cardiff!!