Picturedabove: Referee Christophe Berdos awards Munster their only try inCardiff as he spots Denis Leamy's grounding of the ball. It was number eightLeamy's second try in five Heineken Cup games.
The cup holders put in a satisfying performance, holding off the Blues to earn their third straight win in Pool 4, but coach Declan Kidney knowsMunster cannot afford to rest on their laurels. They are sure to face afired-up Cardiff side next Saturday (Thomond Park, kick-off 5.35pm).
He said: "We certainly don't want to face the same problems as we did this week. It's a great position to be in at the halfway stage, but that's just where we are - only at the halfway stage.
"The way the group is panning out, you might just have to win all six matches just to get out of the group." Munster, who sit on 13 points, have a four-point advantage over the second-placed Leicester.
Munster centre Trevor Halstead goes on the attack as the Arms Park, with Paul O'Connell and Tomas O'Leary in support. O'Connell and company will defend the province's proud 30-match unbeaten home record in the Heineken Cup next weekend - the run began in October 1997 after Cardiff had been triumphant the previous month at Musgrave Park.
Mindful that his charges are not in the last-eight just yet, Kidneyadded: "Leicester have two home games to come and we have still got toface them in Limerick in Round 6. And we know that just one defeat inthis pool and everything is back in the melting pot."
Mike Phillips is caught in a tackle by Munster out-half Ronan O'Gara, who notced 17 points on Sunday to take his Heineken Cup points record to 803 points.The Corkman said afterwards: "We're delighted with the result, but notso much the performance. We never hit the heights of some of our betterperformances, although to win away from home by ten points, and denyCardiff a bonus point, is hugely satisfying.
"I don't think we reached the standards of top European rugby and weknow we've got a lot to work on before next weekend at Thomond Park.The only good thing is that it is always easier to work hard when youare winning."
Munster skipper Paul O'Connell, makinghis 34th Heineken Cup appearance, is tackled by Cardiff's Tongan propTaufa'ao Filise. O'Connell could lead his province to yet anotherrecord next weekend when the Blues visit Thomond Park - Munster couldsecure their 12th consecutive Heineken Cup win and beat the previous mark of 11 set by Leicester.
Reflecting on Munster's stunning home form in the competition, theLimerick-born lock said: "None of us wants to be in the team thatfinally loses a Heineken Cup tie at home. Of course we know it's goingto happen sometime as records are merely there to be broken.
"It puts pressure on us and there is certainly a bit of a fear factor involved. Butit gives us a perverse kind of motivation. It is a great situation tobe in with three wins from three but we are still a long way off ourbest."
Ronan O'Gara linesup a penalty at the Arms Park. The Munster and Ireland number 10 couldhardly have had a better start to the season, playing a pivotal role inIreland's Autumn Test wins over South Africa and Australia and guidinghis province to three European wins on the trot.
Ever the perfectionist, O'Gara still picked holes in the men in red'sperformance in Cardiff. He said: "At times I felt we were cruising inthe conditions and that won't do. We need to be more critical and demanding of ourselves.
"It wasn't a pretty performance but we're in a results-driven businessand we have won three out of three so far, and a lot of teams would
Shorts or no shorts, there is a lineout to be called! Munster lock Donncha O'Callaghan showshis commitment, preparing for a lineout minus his ripped shorts.Seconds later, referee Berdos stepped in to tell him: "You cannot playlike zis!!"
Cue replacement shorts from the sidelines, but the Corkman is unlikelyto forget the incident for a while yet - there is a very funny andfestive verse entitled "Donncha the red pants lock boy", sung to thetune of "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer", already doing the rounds inthe province.
O'Callaghan gets his replacement shorts and Munster are back in business. Incredibly Sunday's win was Munster's first success in four Heineken Cup meetings with Cardiff - their three previous defeats came in 1996 and 1997.
Tomas O'Leary, who was onlycalled into the Munster side on Sunday morning after Anthony Horgan'swithdrawal due to an Achilles tendon injury, tries to snipe through theCardiff rearguard. Blues boss Dai Young was quick to acknowledge Munster's strength after his side slipped to their second successive defeat in Pool 4.
He said: "It was typical Munster. You don't win the Heineken Cup by accident, and they ground out the win. We have a huge respect for Munster and we know it will be a huge formidable task for us at Thomond Park.
"Losing this game has made our life very difficult, but we will go outwith all guns blazing next Saturday. We're not giving up, that's forsure."
Peter Stringer and Alan Quinlan combineto halt the progress of Cardiff captain Xavier Rush. After winning his64th Heineken Cup cap, scrum half Stringer pointed out that Munster'sability to capitalise on Martyn Williams' sin-binning was key (thevisitors scored the only try through Denis Leamy while the Blues flanker was off the field).
The Irish international said: "That was the crucial factor I felt. Whenwe lost Federico (Pucciariello to a yellow card) we knew that thechallenge was not to concede any points while he was off and we weredetermined to do that.
'In fact we actually scored three in that time and when he came back onyou could see he was determined to make up for lost time. Then when they had Williams sin-binned we took as much advantage as we possibly could, and I felt that was the real difference."
Paul O'Connell competes with James Goode for a lineout ball. Stringer added: "To come here to Cardiff and win is a massive victory for us. Don'tbe under any illusions about that. We are pleased because we are at thehalfway stage of the pool now and in a very good position.
'The conditions were really difficult and the pitch was heavy by theend, but we kept going. We have it all to do against the Blues againnext weekend, but it will be good to be at home."
Heineken Cup man of the match Alan Quinlan carriesforward for Munster. The 32-year-old Tipperary man marked his 50th gamein the competition with an inspiring display, particularly at thebreakdown and at maul time.
He said afterwards: "This is probably the best start we have had in the Heineken Cupand we are in a good position, but we're under no illusions as to justhow tough the next three matches are going to be. We have no divineright to win these games. It is going to be very difficult againstCardiff next weekend and we know that we always have to lift ourselvesfor the Heineken Cup."
**All photos by Billy Stickland of Inpho Photography**