Despite starting slowly and lacking intensity in the first half, Munster gradually upped the tempo and were utterly dominant in the second half. There were a number of positives for Munster. They scored five tries (though two of them certainly shouldn't have been given by referee David Changleng and a third wasn't clear-cut). In fact, they should have bagged a couple more, throwing away a couple of try-scoring chances with poor passes. Christian Cullen continued to demonstrate his ability to sniff out tries, helping himself to tries seven and eight in the Celtic League. The flankers responded to David Wallace's tour de force last week. Paul O'Connell was prominent throughout. Frankie Sheahan has never looked as strong as this season. But perhaps the best news is that Ronan O'Gara, who hasn't been his old self, spectacularly relocated his form in the second half.
The first half was eminently forgettable. Cardiff got off to a flyer when Craig Quinnell scored from close in. He may be 20 stone, but two Munster defenders fell off him a mite too easily in a double tackle. Lee Thomas' angled conversion heartened the visitors with a 7-0 lead.
A marginal offside call against the Cardiff midfield allowed O'Gara to reduce the deficit before Munster conceded a second try. Stringer had his clearing kick charged down by a suspiciously offside Cardiff No. 8, Kort Schubert, who just beat the cover to the touch on the ball over the line. At 12-3 and both the crowd and the side quiet, there was a palpable hint of anxiety.
Luckily, a high tackle on Shaun Payne came in from Lee Thomas, getting both crowd and team 'into' it. Referee Changleng, who had a shocker, missed the very obvious infringement, but Tony Redmond got his flag in before the roof came off. O'Gara exacted the three point retribution.
Munster went ahead 13-12 on 25 minutes, when Cullen was very sharp onto a peach of a threaded grubber from O'Gara. The only problem was that he didn't actually get to touch it down, a Cardiff knee knocking it away.
O'Gara extended that lead to 16-12 for another marginal offside call against Cardiff, before Thomas got one back when a Foley knee reversed a penalty decision. It was stop/start stuff, with not much rugby breaking out. The scrums were messy throughout with Changleng offering himself as cover for Ronan Collins, should the Lotto presenter fall ill.
It took all of forty minutes before Munster got any real continuity going through a number of phases. By then O'Gara had tacked on another penalty for a 19-15 interval scoreline.
Another three-pointer was the prelude to Munster's second try. O'Gara sent a beautiful punt down the left before the forwards rumbled and Jim Williams got the touchdown. Again, the score shouldn't have counted as there was a clear double movement from the flanker, having been held in the tackle. Still, there was no doubting the convert, beautifully struck by O'Gara, stretching Munster out to 29-15 on 44 minutes.
A Thomas penalty for Munster going to deck after the tackle gave Cardiff a sniff at 29-18 before Paul Devlin, on for Payne, scored a try on his Munster debut. Again it wasn't clear that he grounded the ball before his leg was in touch, but Changleng isn't a referee that suffers from uncertainty. Leamy provided the crucial link after the ball had gone to ground, feeding on to Kelly, Cullen and Devlin finishing (or not) in the corner. Game over.
The bonus point came when the O'Gara-Cullen axis worked again. A perfectly weighted and angled grubber from close range was dropped on by the fullback in the corner.
The quiet Kiwi couldn't stifle a smile when he followed up with an outrageous drop goal on the run from 38 metres. Just because he could.
Munster actually blew a couple of try-scoring opportunities, one off a clean Stringer break, before Rob Henderson got in on the act. He got the initial foot to a loose ball in his own half, before Rhys Williams made a bags of going down and up on the ball. Henderson got another foot to it before dribbling adroitly over the line and winning the race to it. Burke, now on for O'Gara, closed out the scoring at 49-18.
A good win for Munster, but, while Cardiff fell away badly in the second half, you had to have some sympathy with them for their suffering at the hands of the referee. Roll on video refs at Celtic League matches. And Harlequins in the Heineken Cup, for that matter.