Munster 38-27 Cardiff Blues

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Cardiff Blues suffered a first defeat of the season going down 38-27 in a seven try thriller on the first Monday Night Rugby of the 2020/21 Guinness Pro14 campaign away at Munster.

John Mulvihill had already been forced into six changes due to injury and international call-up from the side that beat Connacht last time out when announced captain Lloyd Williams was withdrawn from the squad at the eleventh hour after being named in the Wales squad.

That didn’t prevent Cardiff Blues getting off to a flying start though as inside four minutes Rey Lee-Lo was over after a half-break from Jarrod Evans allowed him to get an offload away from a first phase strike play, Evans adding the extras for a 0-7 lead.

Munster bounced back quickly though as a silly penalty conceded by Willis Halaholo saw him trip an opposition player chasing a nothing kick and go to the sin bin. The hosts kicked to the corner and mounted a sustained red zone attack which resulted in Gavin Coombes driving over from close range. Ben Healy converted but missed touch from another penalty a few minutes later.

Cardiff pounced on that mistake and despite being down to 14 men managed to re-take the lead after a Rory Thornton lineout steal allowed James Botham to motor down field, and when the hosts were penalised on the floor Jarrod Evans added three points.

As the halfway point of the first half came and went, Munster started to dominate possession and territory, with the away side doing well to hold them up over the line twice and unlucky not to win a turnover through Kris Dacey. In the end Coombes was able to get a second try, powering over from close range with Healy converting.

Evans was able to cut the lead almost instantly as Matthew Morgan was tackled high by Billy Holland just after the restart, but Healy notched a penalty of his own right before the break to ensure the hosts took a 17-13 lead into the sheds.

The opening 10 minutes of the second half was a tense affair as Cardiff Blues won two good turnovers through James Botham and a combined Lewis Jones, Kris Dacey and Alun Lawrence effort, but errors prevented any scores as Jarrod Evans missed touch from a penalty and Ben Healy hit the post from a kick at goal.

Eventually the hosts managed to break the deadlock in the second 40 when a driving maul went over with Kevin O’Byrne in possession, Healy adding the extras, but Cardiff hit back quickly as a fine Morgan high ball take set up an attack which saw Jarrod Evans show-and-go with Aled Summerhill on his shoulder who produced a Ieuan Evans-esque step to beat Mike Haley and score.

Evans converted but the game was now properly back-and-forth as Rey Lee-Lo spilled the kick-off and Munster set up in our 22 again, this time powering over from close through Jack O’Donoghue. Healy’s conversion made it 31-20 on the hour mark.

Five minutes later the score changed again as the hosts conceded two quick penalties and Cardiff Blues made it to the corner, producing a superb lineout routine that wouldn’t look out of place on Strictly Come Dancing, switching the ball from the top of the lineout to the back and then Olly Robinson and Lewis Jones folding around before Willis Halaholo powered over on a short line.

The gap between the teams was just four points as Cardiff pinned Munster in their own half, but that pressure couldn’t turn into points, and once the home side scored the try of the game through JJ Hanrahan after superb handling from Damien De Allende, Rory Scannell and Darren Sweetnam, with Hanrahan converting his own score, the contest was largely over.

There was a chance for losing bonus points for the away team but John Mulvihill’s men couldn’t quite manufacture any further scoring opportunities and the game finished 38-27. A brave effort but ultimately a trip home empty handed and without our unbeaten record.

In the end too many small errors and a poor exit/kicking game invited too much pressure on to Cardiff Blues from Munster, who were very good at turning that pressure into points in the opposition 22. However, there were positives to be taken again from the midfield defence and the clinical nature of the attack to take into a big game against Ulster at Rodney Parade next Monday night.

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