Cardiff Blues secured their second home win in a week as an 8-minute first half try blitz saw Danny Wilson’s men maintain their grip on fourth place in the Guinness Pro14 Conference A table.
A comeback mounted by visitors Munster in the first 20 minutes of the second half did shake the Blues, but some calm kicking from Jarrod Evans pushed the hosts out of reach. We now go into a double header against Italian opposition on the back of two wins over teams placed higher than us in the table.
Danny Wilson had been able to name a starting XV with just one change from that which beat Cheetahs last week, as Fa’ao Filise came in at tighthead in place of Anton Peikrishvili, who was away on international duty. Rhys Gill and Steve Shingler made suitable recoveries from injury to take their places on the bench.
After a slow opening to the match, with both teams guilty of making unforced errors as they tried to establish early dominance. Back-to-back penalties for Munster gave Ian Keatley the chance to open the scoring, but he hooked his penalty well wide.
In the end it was a full 18 minutes before the deadlock was broken, with the score stemming from Keatley kicking the ball out on the full in his own half. From the resulting lineout a neat move freed Matthew Rees down the right, before a half-break from Lloyd Williams and the quick hands of Seb Davies and Matthew Rees put Cardiff in the red zone.
With go forward ball and Munster on the back foot, some quick thinking from Ellis Jenkins changed the point of the attack, before he threw a looping pass wide to Macauley Cook for the flanker to touch down in the corner. Evans missed the conversion, but the hosts had their noses in front.
Munster were rattled, and it showed in their play as mistakes in midfield cost them good attacking position. Garyn Smith chipped in behind, and as Duncan Williams went to clear from the resulting breakdown, Lloyd Williams charged him down and collected the loose ball before powering over from close range.
This time Evans did kick the conversion to make it 12-0 after 25 minutes, and within another two, Cardiff Blues were in dreamland.
Keatley’s third mistake of the game, kicking the ball out on the full from kick-off, gave the hosts a scrum on halfway. Lloyd chose to go to the left off the back and found Rey Lee-Lo through Jarrod Evans, who produced an inch perfect kick through for Owen Lane to chase after, collect and brush off Keatley for the third try in eight minutes.
Another successful Evans conversion saw the scoreline to 19-0, and suddenly the bonus point was in the air. The fly-half manufactured a break in midfield, with Ellis Jenkins and Lloyd in support before the ball was turned over.
Staggering stats as half-time approached showed Munster had made 42 tackles, and missed 10, while Cardiff Blues had only had to make 24, while missing just the one. However, the Irish side don’t just roll over after a rough 10 minutes.
A series of attacking driving mauls from the men in red put Cardiff under pressure, and as referee Stuart Berry signalled for yet another advantage, Chris Cloete managed to sneak his hefty thighs over in the corner for a rather undeserved try.
A second miss of the evening from Keatley left the try unconverted, and he was almost punished again as Seb Davies and George Earle combined once more to return to the red zone. Unfortunately, referee Berry produced a bizarre decision to penalise Nick Williams for holding on and half-time was brought up.
Despite the break being filled of try bonus-point chat, it was immediately to the back foot for Cardiff Blues as Munster managed to hold us up from the kick-off and win the turnover scrum from the maul.
A prolonged attack was well repelled by an organised Cardiff Blues defence, but towards the end of the set an Ellis Jenkins tackle slipped high and Ian Keatley took the chance to put three points on the board.
Within two minutes Munster were back in the attacking 22, as the penalty count showed 8-1 against Cardiff Blues. That would increase as the away side ramped up the pressure, although whether that was through ill-discipline or refereeing errors is up for debate.
Eventually Matthew Rees fell foul of Berry too many times and went to spend 10 minutes in the sin bin. With an extra man Munster pounded the try line, and eventually worked space wide on the right for Stephen Fitzgerald to get on the scoreboard. Another successful Keatley kick made the score 19-15.
Munster tried to press their case further as the sin bin period drew to a close, but Cardiff Blues held out and as they came back up to the full compliment of players, started to get a foothold into the second half action.
Unfortunately, Cardiff were struck down with what the Irish side suffered in the first half, being prone to making mistakes. Forward passes and a creaking lineout resulted in turnovers, but when one throw did stick, Munster pulled the maul down and Jarrod Evans kicked out first points for 30 minutes.
Then with five minutes to go, Evans was back on the tee after Munster were on the end of a dodgy refereeing decision, and stretched the lead to 25-15. The try bonus point was slipping ever further away, but the all-important win was looking likely.
All that was required was to repel a final Munster attack. Cometh the time, cometh the Seb Davies. A terrific lineout steal on our own five metre line, followed by some superb maul defence to secure a turnover and see the clock turn red.
There was just time for one final Munster penalty from the scrum, which Tyler Bleyendaal duly kicked to give the visitors a losing bonus point, but Cardiff’s work was done and a second win in a week was in the bag.
Although it is yet another game where we have not been able to convert three tries into a try bonus point, if someone offered me four point wins over Cheetahs and Munster before this block of fixtures kicked off I’d have gladly accepted to keep us in the driving seat for an automatic Champions Cup qualification spot.
Individual performances from Seb Davies, George Earle, Ellis Jenkins, Nick Williams, Lloyd Williams, Jarrod Evans, Garyn Smith and Owen Lane were particularly standout, although there was nothing poor from any Cardiff Blues player on the day.
The incisiveness of the attack in that first half period of three tries was a joy to behold, in what may very well have been the best 40 minutes of the season so far, while the defensive work to keep Munster at bay from open play was on the whole very good.
There are work-ons for Danny Wilson and his staff as the scrum wobbled in places, while the lineout was poor on too many occasions. The kicking out-of-hand game lacked in areas, while general accuracy could go up a level, but the signs are that this squad is really starting to come together.
Hopefully the settled nature of the side can remain as we move into a huge Italian double header, starting with Zebre away next Sunday. Our destiny is in our hands, and it feels good. Come on Cardiff!