Munster were far more cohesive on the night but they eventually broke down a hard working Cardiff Blues to secure a win that keeps the province in touch with Ospreys and Leinster at the summit of the league. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.
Munster squad looking fatigued
It has being a grueling Guinness Pro 12 schedule for all teams during this RBS 6 Nations section of the competition, a period where squad’s are tested to their limits and depth issues are wholly exposed. Munster’s performances in recent weeks have lacked spark and cohesion with several crossing infringements penalized last night. The infringements mean one of two things: lack of communication in the ranks or players who are fatigued losing focus. The front five at times struggled. Kilcoyne and Marshall were their abrasive best with ball in hand but Stephen Archer really struggled on the night. The match officiating pinpointed Archer at scrum-time and when he did run with ball was easily dispossessed by the likes of Navidi who was one of Cardiff Blues best performers. The second row on duty had mixed evenings. Billy Holland was as reliable as ever; solid in the lineout and good in breakdown and open play. Darren O’Shea on the other hand had an evening to forget; minimal impact with ball carries and missed a couple of first time tackles. O’Shea will learn from this experience.
Stirring Cardiff Blues Performance
The manner on how Munster fought back from being 13-3 down has to be admired but it was a struggle for the province throughout. Cardiff Blues were well up for this contest. Nick Williams showing intent early doors with a excellent tackle on Rhys Marshall. William was typically tenacious and with the likes of Navidi producing good work in the breakdown area, the hosts will rue some gilt edged opportunities which they let slip particularly in the opening period. Duncan Williams’ last ditch tackling saving Munster on a couple of occasions. Tom James was a standout with his ball carrying in the opening period and his game line breaks which on another day could have produced more points for Cardiff Blues who to a man left everything out on the pitch. The intercept try was well taken; anticipation was on point as Scannell’s loopy pass was gratefully received by Summerhill who went over unopposed. The concession of ten points in the final ten minutes was incredibly harsh on the hosts who contributed to a good contest in difficult conditions.
Munster win despite Keatley injury
The result is all the more astonishing given the fact that Ian Keatley was forced to retire from the game in the opening period. With no backup fly-half cover, Munster management introduced Francis Saili and switched Andrew Conway to ten initially, a position that I have not seen the player occupy in his career. Scannell then took up the role in the second half with mixed results. An errand pass which led to the Cardiff Blues try but the Cork native produced when required with an excellent drop goal to give Munster the lead. It remains to be seen the extent of Keatley’s injury but any lengthy period on the sidelines will ask questions of Munster’s squad depth at the ten position. Intriguing couple of weeks beckon on the ten front.
Munster young bucks continue to impress
The young Munster charges again produced encouraging cameos. Sweetnam again provided further evidence of his potential international credentials with an accomplished performance in the air and his ability to make space and offload caught the eye. Conor Oliver is a player who has really emerged as a superb prospect. The back row player has shown versatility in recent weeks; playing at six and eight last week against the Scarlets. Oliver’s try at the death showed great awareness of Cardiff Blues defensive breakdown on the fringes to score from distance. The try encapsulated Munster’s best period of the game; O’Mahoney tackle leading to Cardiff Blues losing fifteen meters set the tone, Saili’s pressure forcing the turnover and with Cardiff Blues not setup defensively, the back row scored the try.
Taute, Saili and O’Callaghan stand up
Jaco Taute defensively stood out throughout yesterday. His tackle count, accuracy and organizational skills are assets to this side. Taute has being a standout to the province this season. Munster fans will be hoping that the South African extends his stay next season but that remains a big if. Dave O’Callaghan was also a front runner for Munster; carried endless ball and his work rate defensively stood out. Francis Saili also deserves a mention; have being a critic of the New Zealander this season as he sometimes exposes colleagues with rash game management decisions. Saili was on point upon his introduction; super try to get Munster back in the contest in the second half and his controlled defensive press on Cardiff Blues posed problems for the hosts particularly in the last quarter. It was controlled rather than the frenzied approach seen against Scarlets last weekend.
Cardiff Blues – Encouraging Signs
For Cardiff Blues, the hosts had excellent performances from Williams, Navidi and James. The team were beset with injuries and international call-ups. However, the team that was put out produced a stirring performance. I had read comments specifically around the Connacht home game loss but the lack of effort and intensity was not in view yesterday. Tackles were made and the set piece was solid throughout particularly the scrum time where Munster may have thought that they would have an edge. The line-out was again excellent (92% lineout success this season is the best in the league). Cardiff Blues had a good start to the season but squad depth appears problematic; they have beaten Munster away from home and yesterday’s performance confirms that the side have all the attributes to beat anyone in the league. Consistency of performance appears to be the core of the team’s struggles. The last eight minutes will be a big disappointment for the hosts; the drop goal from Munster to go 13-16 was a blow but Cardiff Blues unfortunately spilled ball deep in their own half immediately after the drop goal concession which setup the Oliver try. Given the intensity of this contest, both teams will be grateful of weekend off this week.