Even though they faced a near full strength Cardiff Blues side Munster will be disappointed to have earned just a losing point after going 19-12 at a packed Musgrave Park.
And of even greater disappointment and concern will be the injuries sustained by Federico Pucciariello, Darragh Hurley and Shaun Payne. Payne didn’t appear out for the second half after damaging a hand in the opening period while Hurely’s departure with a shoulder injury in the 48th minute was followed by Pucciariello ten minutes later with a leg injury.
After a lacklustre opening forty, Munster trailed 13-0 and although they produced a much improved second half they were always playing catch up against a side who were dominant out of touch and much more abrasive at the point of collision.
Munster could rightly claim that they enjoyed little luck and two incident in particular favour this claim. Having come though a torrid opening quarter for the loss of just one score – a Ben Blair penalty Munster were threatening the Blues line. They opted to switch the point of attack to the backs but the pass from Tomas O’Leary to Eoghan Hickey, was a little high and hard and bounced off the out-half’s chest. Blues wing Thom James kicked downfield regained possession and scored under the sticks.
Then in the second half O’Leary did superbly to blockdown and then gather a Nick Robinson attempted clearance but with a short run to the open line, O’Leary slipped when a try looked certain. From the next phase of play, Lifeimi Mafi was stopped short and with Munster players queuing up on the left, Jamie Robinson was more than happy to sacrifice ten minutes in the bin to save a seven pointer.
Blair opened the scoring with an 8th minute penalty after Mick O’Driscoll was pinged for not releasing, this after O’Leary had taken a quick tapped penalty. The New Zealander converted James’ fortuitous try and added a penalty for a 13 point interval lead.
There was a greater urgency about Munster from the restart with Mafi and Barry Murphy cutting swathes through the Blues defence. Hickey – who enjoyed another good evening in the number 10 slot – struck with an early penalty but Blair nullified that in the 50th minute. At 16-6 the O’Leary stumble was a pivotal moment and although Hickey further cut the deficit seven minutes later, Munster were unable to seriously threaten the Blues line.
Blair’s 57th pushed it out to 19-9 with another excellent kick but Hickey earned his side the bonus with an equally excellent effort deep in injury time.
Munster: C Cullen; S Payne (L Mafi ht), B Murphy, T Halstead, J Kelly capt; E Hickey, T O’Leary; D Hurley (T Buckley 52 mins), F Sheahan (D Fogarty 77 min) , F Pucciariello (M Melbourne 68 min); C Wyatt (D Ryan 45 min), M O’Driscoll; A Quinlan, T McGann, J O’Sullivan.
Cardiff Blues: B Blair; T James (M Luveitasau 41 min), J Robinson, M Stcherbina (N McLeod 80 min), C Czekaj; N Robinson, M Phillips; T Filise (M Lewis 71 min), R Thomas, G Powell, D Jones, R Sidoli, S Morgan, X Rush (capt), R Shellard (B White 76 min).