Cardiff Blues gained some revenge on Munster for their two Heineken Cup pool defeats as Ben Blair kicked them to their first win in Ireland in over two years.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, March 2
MUNSTER 12 CARDIFF BLUES 19, Musgrave Park
Scorers: Munster: Pens: Eoghan Hickey 4
Cardiff: Try: Tom James; Con: Ben Blair; Pens: Blair 4
Blair’s place-kicking accuracy was key at a sold-out Musgrave Park. The New Zealander slotted four penalties and converted Tom James’ first half try to see the Blues leapfrog over Edinburgh into fourth in the Magners League table.
James scored an opportunist try just before break to help the visitors into a 13-0 lead. A disjointed Munster failed to sniff out a try as they relied solely on the boot of Eoghan Hickey – the fly-half’s fourth and final penalty secured them a losing bonus point.
This was an excellent win for Dai Young’s men, especially when you consider they were idle for the past five weeks and that Munster came into the game having lost just once in their last twelve outings at their Cork base.
Having managed to turnover Mick O’Driscoll after the Munster lock had ran back Nicky Robinson’s initial kick-off, the Blues bossed possession in the early stages.
Scott Morgan, at the breakdown, and Robert Sidoli, who produced three telling lineout steals, had big influences for the visitors as Munster, minus their international contingent, looked decidedly out of sorts.
Blair kicked the Welsh region into a ninth-minute lead and with defences on top, 3-0 was how it stayed until James struck in the 26th-minute.
The score came as the Blues looked decidedly vulnerable – Munster had a scrum close to the visitors’ line but Tomas O’Leary failed to find his half-back partner Hickey, the ball bobbled loose and was hacked on before James collected it and sped off on an electric diagonal run to touch down to the left of the posts.
The unerring Blair converted and added a penalty, four minutes before the break, to put his side firmly in control at 13-0.
Munster did noticeably improve in the second half. Replacement winger Lifeimi Mafi upped the ante with a number of barnstorming attacks and a shuddering hit on Cardiff captain Xavier Rush, however losing props Darragh Hurley and Federico Pucciariello to injury did wilt the home side’s charge.
The complexion of the game might have changed had Mafi or O’Leary, who charged down a Nicky Robinson kick, bagged a try but Hickey’s penalty haul could only get Declan Kidney’s men within a seven-point range.
O’Leary’s charge down on Robinson unfortunately saw the Munster scrum half lose his footing as he gathered in the ball and the Blues regrouped but not before a deliberate offside from Jamie Robinson resulted in the Blues losing their number 13 to the sin-bin.
Hickey landed the subsequent penalty for a 16-9 score line but Young’s men held firm – with the kickers swapping late penalties – for the region’s first win on Irish soil since they beat Connacht in January 2005.
TIME LINE: 9 minutes – Cardiff penalty: Ben Blair – 0-3; 26 mins – Cardiff try: Tom James – 0-8; conversion: Ben Blair – 0-10; 36 mins – Cardiff penalty: Ben Blair – 0-13; Half-time – Munster 0 Cardiff 13; 43 mins – Munster penalty: Eoghan Hickey – 3-13; 52 mins – Cardiff penalty: Ben Blair – 3-16; 58 mins – Munster penalty: Eoghan Hickey – 6-16; 63 mins – Munster penalty: Eoghan Hickey – 9-16; 79 mins – Cardiff penalty: Ben Blair – 9-19; 80+5 mins – Munster penalty: Eoghan Hickey – 12-19; Full-time – Munster 12 Cardiff Blues 19
MUNSTER: Christian Cullen; Shaun Payne, Barry Murphy, Trevor Halstead, John Kelly (capt); Eoghan Hickey, Tomas O’Leary; Darragh Hurley, Frankie Sheahan, Federico Pucciariello, Chris Wyatt, Mick O’Driscoll, Alan Quinlan, Tim McGann, John O’Sullivan.
Replacements used: Lifeimi Mafi for Payne (half-time), Donnacha Ryan for Wyatt (46 mins), Tony Buckley for Hurley (53), Mark Melbourne for Pucciariello (69), Denis Fogarty for Sheahan (78). Not used: Brian O’Meara, Jeremy Manning.
CARDIFF: Ben Blair; Tom James, Jamie Robinson, Marc Stcherbina, Chris Czekaj; Nicky Robinson, Mike Phillips; Taufa’ao Filise, Rhys Thomas, Gary Powell, Deiniol Jones, Robert Sidoli, Scott Morgan, Rhys Shellard, Xavier Rush (capt).
Replacements used: Mosese Luveitasau for James (half-time), Mark Lewis for Filise (71 mins), Ben White for Shellard (77), Nick Macleod for Stcherbina (80). Not used: Scott Roberts, Gareth Williams, Wayne Evans.
Sin Bin: Jamie Robinson (Cardiff) (63 mins); IrishRugby.ie man of the match: Scott Morgan (Cardiff)
Referee: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland)