Cardiff Blues bagged a single-point win over Munster on Friday night after a brave performance in Cork. Two tries for Tom James and a match winner from Dan Fish gave Danny Wilson’s men a deserved victory after a huge battle with the Irish side.
There were four changes to the Cardiff line-up from that which beat Edinburgh last week. Kris Dacey came in for the injured Kirby Myhill, Alex Cuthbert returned from an injury of his own to start ahead of Blaine Scully, while Gethin Jenkins and Gareth Anscombe were preferred to Rhys Gill and Steven Shingler. Wales internationals Josh Turnbull, Sam Warburton and Lloyd Williams all took a place on the bench.
Cardiff started the better and were by far the stronger team as we dominated possession in the opening 10 minutes. Half-breaks from Gareth Anscombe, Dan Fish and Rey Lee-Lo all gave good front-foot ball, but a turnover and Cory Allen being shepherded into touch seemed to put an end to the attacking.
However, Munster didn’t prepare for the Dan Fish counter-attack when they cleared their lines, as the full-back sliced through the red wall with ease. A few phases went by in the red zone before it was Fish again at first receiver flinging possession wide to Tom James and last year’s top scorer opened this season’s account with a fantastic finish.
Anscombe kicked the conversion for a 0-7 lead but it wouldn’t last long as the hosts struck straight back. Playing with a penalty advantage secured, Munster fly-half Ian Keatley popped a kick in behind. James went back but the bounce was unkind as he lost his footing, and when Allen and Ellis Jenkins both went to dive on the loose ball only to wipe each other out, home winger Darren Sweetman had a free pick up to offload for Andrew Conway to score.
The game settled into a tactical battle with Munster trying to put pressure on Cardiff through a high kicking game while we attempted to run the ball back at the home side. Despite Anscombe kicking a penalty won at scrum time, Munster dominated field position as we struggled under the high ball and eventually Keatley drew the scores level at 10-10 on 30 minutes.
At this point the game was on a knife edge but Cardiff wouldn’t roll over and grabbed the initiative, setting up camp in the Munster 22. Phases came and went before a penalty was awarded and Anscombe went for the corner. The maul drive came in before the forwards went from the fringes, but as Ellis Jenkins dived over the line, namesake Gethin was adjudged, harshly, to have obstructed.
Not even Ian Davies could prevent a Cardiff score though and off the top of a midfield line-out just two minutes later, Anscombe used Nick Williams as the dummy runner before sending Rey Lee-Lo into a wide open gap. James was right on the Samoan’s shoulder with an excellent tracking run and the centre found him to score his 51st try for Cardiff Blues.
Gareth Anscombe’s conversion made it 10-17 at half-time with Cardiff going in knowing that certain aspects of the game were going well, but was far from over yet.
Munster were the team to fly out of the traps as the second half got underway with an early penalty being pushed into the corner. I’m sure not any Cardiff fans would have been confident under such an onslaught of red shirts but Graham Steadman will be very pleased with how the defence really stood up well in the first 10 minutes after half-time.
Danny Wilson turned to the bench early in the second half, with substitute props Rhys Gill and Scott Andrews coming on, with no great effect unless you’re Munster. Firstly, Andrews conceded a penalty in his first scrum to allow Keatley three points, before Gill coughed up our first lengthy possession in midfield and followed that up by becoming isolated following a defensive lineout and gave up a penalty for holding on.
Munster went to the corner and spent a minute never being more than a yard from the try line. Despite some unbelievable discipline and defensive effort, there was no stopping Dave Kilcoyne in the end who snuck over under a pile of Cardiff bodies. Keatley added the extras and for the first time in the game we were behind.
As with the game against Edinburgh the week before, the team had almost stopped playing in the post-half time period, meaning a big finish was needed to get a positive result. Anscombe had a chance to draw us back level but his penalty dropped short in what would be his last kick of the game before being replaced by Steve Shingler coming on with Matthew Morgan as Wilson looked to the bench for inspiration.
And it was inspiration he got as it would be full-back Morgan making the biggest impact. He fielded a high kick just inside the Cardiff half and after a bit of quick-stepping he broke his hands free from a tackle. The offload found the excellent Lee-Lo who similarly produced an offload for Lloyd Williams to hand Dan Fish the simplest of finishes.
Shingler’s conversion meant that not even a third Keatley penalty could cost us the lead, but a 23-24 lead with eight minutes to go away at Munster is about as nervous as you can get. It felt written in the stars that a penalty would go against us or possession would be lost easily, it has been the Cardiff way over the last few years after all.
This is a different Cardiff though, a clever one that is composed and clever in the way it plays. It has grit and desire about it, a willingness to play for the shirt. In scenes reminiscent of Llanelli away at the end of last season the minutes were wiled away with a series of simple set-pieces, intelligent kicks and safe phase play.
If you want an example of how much effort the players are willing to put in, all you need to do is look at Dan Fish hobbling back to defend a cross field kick with a heavily strapped ankle and barely able to walk. Or Wales captain Sam Warburton, long chastised for not putting in performances for Cardiff, burrowing away at the bottom of a ruck to secure possession with four minutes to go. The makings of a special team is there for all to see.
Eventually after what seemed like a good three hours, Shingler booted the ball over the stand into the Cork night sky and a famous victory was secured, just our second in 9 years over Munster in Ireland. It was also the first time we’ve won our first two games since 2011/12. There’s a long way to go, but the World is our oyster right now, come on Cardiff!!