A much depleted Munster side fell to a 22-13 defeat at the hands of the Cardiff Blues on Friday night, but they still finished the stronger with substitute prop Timmy Ryan scoring a late try.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, September 1
CARDIFF BLUES 22 MUNSTER 13, Arms Park (Att: 8,687)
Scorers: Cardiff: Tries: Chris Czekaj, Scott Morgan; Pens: Nick Robinson 4
Munster: Try: Timmy Ryan; Con: Jeremy Manning; Pens: Manning 2
Ryan came off the bench to earn an immediate yellow card and then come back onto the field to score a late try for Munster, who were returning to city of their Heineken Cup triumph for the first time.
Boasting only six of the match day 22 from last May's European final against Biarritz, Munster were always going to be up against it in the opening game of the 2006/07 Magners League.
Coach Declan Kidney's options had been ravaged by a bout of pre-season injuries and Ireland squad commitments. It was very much a case of the untried and untested at the Arms Park as centre James Downey, prop Darragh Hurley, locks Donnacha Ryan and Chris Wyatt and back rows Ross Noonan and James Coughlan all made their first competitive starts for the men in red.
Standing in their way were Cardiff Blues, who fielded 12 internationals and clearly had revenge on their minds for their 37-8 defeat at Thomond Park on the final day of last season. And Dai Young's side proved the stronger in the first half - but for poor handling and a lack of discipline, their 9-3 interval lead would have been bigger.
Out-half Nick Robinson landed his first penalty after 10 minutes when the Munster pack went over the top at a ruck and returning hooker Frankie Sheahan added insult to injury by throwing the ball at Mike Phillips and penalising the visitors a further ten metres.
However, Cardiff never hit top gear, or were allowed to, as from Jeremy Manning's restart, the Blues pack fumbled, Downey gobbled up possession and Munster claimed a penalty which Manning duly dispatched.
Both Rob Sidoli and Rhys Williams had tries ruled out for infringements, and while Munster's captain for the night John Kelly showed a neat turn of pace in open play, the visitors' attacking options were limited, especially with a lineout that was failing to fire under Sheahan's baton.
Robinson landed two more penalties in the half's final six minutes to send his side in at the break with a 9-3 buffer.
Manning dinked over another penalty, five minutes into the second half, to close the gap to three, but that was as close as Munster got. Undoubtedly, the best move of the game followed for the Blues as Marc Stcherbina crafted their opening try.
The Australian centre nipped in between a gap between Manning and Shaun Payne on the left flank, creating the space for the supporting Chris Czekaj to cross the whitewash for a crucial 49th-minute score.
A second try followed, five minutes later, as captain Xavier Rush and Rhys Thomas combined to put new flanker Scott Morgan away and in at the same left corner, just beating the tackle of John O'Sullivan. Now 19-6 down, Munster were hit with another body blow when young prop Ryan, barely a minute on the field, was harshly sin-binned for playing the ball on the ground.
Worse followed on 63 minutes when lock Donnacha Ryan was also yellow carded - again, the decision from referee Rob Dickson was harsh as Ryan was adjudged to have arrived a ruck from an offside position.
Still, some staunch defence, with Kelly, Dowling and number 8 Coughlan putting in some powerful hits, kept Munster competitive and Cardiff were left clawing their way over the finish line as they sought out penalty kicks rather than tries.
Robinson's fourth success pushed them 22-6 clear before Cork Con prop Ryan had a moment to tell the grandchildren as he handed off Wales flanker Martyn Williams to slide over the line for an opportunist 73rd-minute try. Manning converted, the bonus point was on, yet scoring opportunities were at a premium and a disappointing game petered out with Munster left ruing those sin-binnings.
Cardiff: Rhys Williams; Chris Czekaj, Jamie Robinson, Marc Stcherbina, Mosese Luveitasau; Nick Robinson, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Rhys Thomas, Tufaao Filise, Deiniol Jones, Rob Sidoli, Scott Morgan, Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush (capt).
Replacements used: Bradley Davies for Jones (61 mins), Tom Shanklin for Stcherbina (65), John Yapp for Jenkins (68), Nick Macleod for Luveitasau (71), Robin Sowden-Taylor for M Williams (75). Not used: Gareth Williams, Wayne Evans.
Munster: Christian Cullen; Shaun Payne, John Kelly (capt), James Downey, Ian Dowling; Jeremy Manning, Tomas O'Leary; Darragh Hurley, Frankie Sheahan, Federico Pucciariello, Donnacha Ryan, Chris Wyatt, Ross Noonan, John O'Sullivan, James Coughlan.
Replacements used: Brendan Cuttriss for Noonan (52 mins), Timmy Ryan for Pucciariello (54), Mossie Lawlor for Downey (71), Eoghan Hickey for Dowling (77). Not used: Sean Cronin, Shane O'Connor, Gerry Hurley.
Referee: Rob Dickson (Scotland)
Touch Judges: Nigel Owens, David Williams (both Wales)