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Munster ‘A’ Come Through Cardiff Test With Bonus Point Reward
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Munster ‘A’ Come Through Cardiff Test With Bonus Point Reward

Munster ‘A’ Come Through Cardiff Test With Bonus Point Reward

19-year-old Academy pair Sean French and Keynan Knox both touched down as Munster ‘A’ held off a late Cardiff Blues ‘A’ comeback to maximum points in a 33-32 victory at Cardiff Arms Park.

Peter Malone's men made it four wins from four in the Celtic Cup, continuing their neck-and-neck tussle with Leinster 'A' at the top of the Irish Conference. The provinces, who face each other at Energia Park in two weeks' time, both have 19 points entering the final two rounds.

Munster 'A' turned a 16-13 half-time lead into a comfortable 20-point advantage before three late tries from Cardiff made for a very nervy finish. The province's rolling maul was a particularly effective weapon, as was the accurate right boot of captain Bill Johnston who kicked 11 points.

It was that combination that led to the first score in the eighth minute as a Munster 'A' drive from a lineout was dragged down and young out-half Johnston made it 3-0. An Aled Summerhill break gave the Blues 'A' side the opportunity to respond with the experienced Steven Shingler levelling after a period of extended pressure.

Cardiff were ahead for the first time on 23 minutes after an excellent individual try from hooker Ethan Lewis, with a dummy to get past Stephen Fitzgerald, was converted by Shingler for a 10-3 advantage to the hosts. They had missed two previous try-scoring chances, including one where Summerhill's long pass to Lewis Jones drifted forward with the line close by.

A 40-metre Johnston penalty narrowed the gap to four points (10-6) before another long range Johnston effort in the 36th minute reduced the gap to just a single point. The Munster 'A' scrum was also going well, with Josh Wycherley, Diarmuid Barron and Jeremy Loughman combining to good effect in the front row.

The province's driving play continued to cause problems for Cardiff on the all-weather surface and they notched a penalty try just before the break. Their powerful maul was brought down illegally and referee Craig Evans promptly awarded the penalty try, as well as sin-binning Cardiff flanker Sion Bennett.

Even though Shingler added his second penalty in the final play of the first half, Munster 'A' led 16-13 at the interval. They pushed further ahead just three minutes after the restart as a number of strong runs and smart running lines resulted in an overlap and Liam Coombes fed centre Sean French to finish out wide.

Cardiff suffered a second sin-binning on the hour mark when scrum half Jones saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on. The visitors showed their clinical edge again as Johnston kicked to the corner, the maul almost propelled Eoghan Clarke over the whitewash before fellow replacement Keynan Knox got the job done with a well-timed pick.

Johnston converted and the bonus point score followed in the 66th minute, Ireland Sevens international Alex McHenry running in on an angle to go over unopposed and widen the margin to 33-13. It was a hugely important try in the end as Cardiff were far from finished.

Richie Rees' charges came storming back with three late tries and two conversions to reduce the gap to a single point. Replacement Callum Bradbury grabbed the first from a maul, Tom James' hard work set Harri Millard free for another, and the Blues bagged their bonus point when fellow replacement Dan Fish turned a partially-charged down clearance kick into a superb solo try from deep inside his own half.

Full-back Tom Williams landed the first and third conversions to make it 33-32 and set up a frantic final couple of minutes. After Clarke was pinged for a crooked lineout throw, the Blues forced scrum and breakdown penalties in their own half but Williams' last-gasp penalty kick from 55 metres fell short of the Munster 'A' posts.

Giving his reaction afterwards, Munster 'A' skipper Johnston said: “We got a bit complacent and gave away too many penalties and turnovers. We shouldn't have got so ahead of ourselves when we got a few points up and that's a lesson we will take into the next few rounds.

“Leinster 'A' got the better of us last year and we play them in round 6. Now we have to put ourselves in a position to make it count in that round. This was our toughest test to date based on the scoreline. We rallied well after their good start and the start to the second half was brilliant. But overall it wasn't good enough.”

Referee: Craig Evans (WRU)

Lineups Scorers

Match Lineups

Home Team

Tom Williams; Aled Summerhill, Max Llewellyn, Ben Thomas, Tom James; Steven Shingler, Lewis Jones; Rhys Carré, Ethan Lewis, Will Davies King, Shane Lewis Hughes, James Down, Ioan Rhys Davies, Sion Bennett, Alun Lawrence (capt).

Replacements used: Liam Belcher for Lewis, Keiron Assiratti for Davies King, Callum Bradbury for Davies (all 47 mins), Harri Millard for Thomas (58), Dan Fish for Shingler (63), Fraser Young for Carré (66), Dane Blacker for Jones, Teddy Williams for Lewis Hughes (both 69).

Away Team

Stephen Fitzgerald; Liam Coombes, Sean French, Alex McHenry, Calvin Nash; Bill Johnston (capt), Jack Stafford; Josh Wycherley, Diarmuid Barron, Jeremy Loughman, Darren O'Shea, Sean O'Connor, Dave O'Callaghan, Jack Daly, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements used: Keynan Knox for Loughman (half-time), Cronan Gleeson for Wycherley, Eoghan Clarke for Barron (both 58 mins), John Poland for Stafford, John Hodnett for G Coombes (both 67), Conor Phillips for Nash (71), Ben Healy for Johnston, Paddy Kelly for O'Shea (both 73).

Match Scorers

Home Team

Tries: Ethan Lewis, Callum Bradbury, Harri Millard, Dan Fish; Con: Stevens Shingler, Tom Williams 2; Pens: Steven Shingler 2

Away Team

Tries: Penalty try, Sean French, Keynan Knox, Alex McHenry; Cons: Pen try con, Bill Johnston; Pens: Bill Johnston 3