Ronan O'Gara kicked 17 points as Munster beat the Cardiff Blues 22-12 on Sunday to maintain their stranglehold on Heineken Cup Pool 4.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 4: Sunday, December 10
CARDIFF BLUES 12 MUNSTER 22, Arms Park (Att: 12,180)
Scorers: Cardiff: Pens: Ben Blair 4
Munster: Try: Denis Leamy; Con: Ronan O'Gara; Pens: O'Gara 5
On a record-breaking day for the men in red - Munster became the first team in Heineken Cup history to win six away games on the trot - O'Gara was again central to their success.
The Corkman's 17-point personal tally, made up of five penalties and a conversion, saw him become the first man to break through the 800-point barrier in Europe's premier tournament.
This was not vintage Munster, far from it, but once more Declan Kidney's men did enough to warrant their third successive win in Pool 4, which they lead now by four points from the Leicester Tigers.
Munster dogged it out, recovering from a poor start, which saw them lose Italian prop Federico Pucciariello to a tenth-minute yellow card, to record their 11th straight Heineken Cup victory, equalling the Tigers' record from 2002.
The Arms Park, with the crowd observing a minute's silence beforehand in memory of former Cardiff and England prop Barry Nelmes, was packed to capacity as these Celtic rivals faced off.
Munster's try scorer Denis Leamy fielded Nick Robinson's kick-off and ran it back with venom, but it was the Blues who looked the more fired-up in the opening stages.
Robinson sent Munster's back three of Shaun Payne, Ian Dowling and Tomas O'Leary (who was a late call-up due to Achilles tendon-victim Anthony Horgan pulling out) to work as he peppering the touchlines with some clever kicks.
However Payne and company were equal to anything the Cardiff number 10 had to offer, and visitors' back three was arguably their best unit on display throughout the 80 minutes.
New Zealander Ben Blair got the Blues up and running as he landed a 40-metre penalty, five minutes in, after he had missed an earlier attempt. Being matched by the hosts up front, Munster went 6-0 down and a man down when Pucciariello was seen to stick a knee into Scott Morgan's back, just away from a ruck.
Blair sent over the subsequent penalty, but Dai Young's side may have been further in front at that stafe as they failed to capitalise on an excellent line break from scrum half Mike Phillips.
Possession and territory wise, the Blues were on top but Munster gradually got back in touch, especially after Martyn Williams saw yellow, perhaps harshly, for a high tackle on Munster winger O'Leary.
O'Gara had thumped over a 14th-minute penalty and following Williams' misdemeanour, a clearly pumped-up Pucciariello, back on the pitch a matter of minutes, almost muscled over for a try in the left corner.
Munster sensed a try and it duly came on 29 minutes off the back of one their well-used lineout mauls. With captain Paul O'Connell barking the orders, a catch-and-drive effort rolled up to the line and number eight Leamy did excellently well to plunge over and turn his body sufficiently for the grounding.
O'Gara converted for a 10-6 lead and the defending champions were never headed thereafter as Cardiff's dreams of making the last-eight for the first time since 2001 now look dashed, unless they can score a shock win at Thomond Park next Saturday (kick-off 5.35pm).
Munster extended their lead by another three points in first half injury-time when O'Gara fired over his best kick of the afternoon from all of 50 metres.
...Donncha O'Callaghan had a 'wardrobe malfunction' during the second half at the Arms Park when his shorts were ripped. The Munster lock had to delay a lineout as he waited for a replacement pair to be thrown on from the sidelines!...
By the 53rd-minute, Cardiff, who lost their Welsh international prop Gethin Jenkins to injury, had managed to cut the gap to just a single point with Blair arrowing over two penalties for a 13-12 score line.
Calmly though, Munster reassumed control and closed out the win with O'Gara bisecting the posts on three more occasions, confirming his 100% kicking return and taking his points record in the competition to a massive 803.
For all their toil, Cardiff missed out on a losing bonus point as O'Gara's accuracy undid them. Munster lasted the pace better and no one more so than Alan Quinlan, whose impressive and workman-like performance was watched by Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan from the stands.
A word too for Darragh Hurley. The UCC and Munster Academy prop, 21, made his Heineken Cup debut as a second half replacement and he made an immediate impression, pinching a ball from a ruck and earning a flurry of pats on the back from his team-mates.
So that is Castres (twice), Newport Gwent Dragons (twice), Sale Sharks, Perpignan, Leinster, Biarritz, Leicester, Bourgoin and now Cardiff who have been beaten by Munster in the past 14 months. Phenomenal stuff from Kidney's charges, who are eyeing up a ninth quarter-final appearance for the province.
...Munster hooker Frankie Sheahan goes on the attack, faced by Nick Robinson and John Yapp...
TIME LINE: 5 minutes - Cardiff penalty: Ben Blair - 3-0; 10 mins - Munster yellow card: Federico Pucciariello; 11 mins - Cardiff penalty: Ben Blair - 6-0; 14 mins - Munster penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 6-3; 22 mins - Cardiff yellow card: Martyn Williams; 29 mins - Munster try: Denis Leamy - 6-8; conversion: Ronan O'Gara - 6-10; 40+4 mins - Munster penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 6-13; Half-time - Cardiff Blues 6 Munster 13; 51 mins - Cardiff penalty: Ben Blair - 9-13; 53 mins - Cardiff penalty: Ben Blair - 12-13; 58 mins - Munster penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 12-16; 72 mins - Munster penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 12-19; 77 mins - Munster penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 12-22; Full-time - Cardiff Blues 12 Munster 22
CARDIFF BLUES: Ben Blair; Tom Shanklin, Jamie Robinson, Marc Stcherbina, Chris Czekaj; Nick Robinson, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Rhys Thomas, Taufa'ao Filise, Deiniol Jones, James Goode, Scott Morgan, Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush (capt).
Replacements used: Bradley Davies for Jones (blood, 21-27 mins), John Yapp for Jenkins (half-time), Davies for Goode (60), Mark Lewis for Morgan (78), Nick Macleod for Robinson (79). Not used: Dwayne Goodfield, Ed Fairhurst, Thom James.
MUNSTER: Shaun Payne; Tomas O'Leary, Lifeimi Mafi, Trevor Halstead, Ian Dowling; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Federico Pucciariello, Frankie Sheahan, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell, Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.
Replacements used: Andy Kyriacou for Quinlan (20-22 mins), Darragh Hurley for Pucciariello (59). Not used: Chris Wyatt, John O'Sullivan, Diogo Mateus, Jeremy Manning, Christian Cullen.
Heineken Cup man of the match: Alan Quinlan (Munster)
Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)