By Sion Ford
Last night saw the Cardiff Blues put the frustrations of the first few weeks to bed after they ran out 37-13 winners against Munster. A bonus point win came courtesy of tries from Nick Williams, Willis Halaholo and Tomos Williams, while Gareth Anscombe marked a return to the 10 jersey with a perfect kicking display.
As with their last home game, the Blues started strongly against their Irish counterparts, and Owen Lane thought he had crossed for the game’s first score in the third minute. Following an appeal to review the play by Munster’s captain, Peter O’Mahony, the try was washed off by the TMO as Lee-Lo was judged to have obstructed the Munster defence.
The home crowd weren’t made to wait long, though, and soon after the Blues pressure bore fruit for Nick Williams. After the Blues scrum had won a penalty and Anscombe opted for touch, Munster were on the back foot from the ensuing line-out. Some good carries up to the Munster five-metre line gave the big New Zealander an early opportunity to cross the line, and he crashed over to make sure.
Munster were quick to respond, albeit in a controversial manner. Andrew Conway showed good pace and finishing to break down the right-hand touchline before collecting his own chip-and-chase to dot down in the corner. Despite Munster having appeared to have turned the ball over illegally at the preceding ruck, no review was called and the score was 7-5 to the Blues.
It would be the men in red who scored again, Conway again finishing off a move that came off the back of a telling break by fly-half Joey Carbery. Whether it was down to his footwork and vision or half-hearted tackling, the Irish international made it look easy as he surged through the Blues defensive line and into open space. Some smart phase play and carrying for the forwards led to a simple case of putting the ball through the hands and Conway was the grateful recipient.
As with the opening three weeks of the season, there would have been some concerns among the Blues management for the home side’s defence. There couldn’t be any such complaints where the home side’s attack was concerned, though. A second try for the Blues came in the 17th minute after Willis Halaholo yet again underlined his value, his break setting up an easy score for Tomos Williams. Anscombe made it two from two, and the score was 14-10 in the Blues’ favour.
The first half ended with the scoreline at 14-13, Carbery having kicked a penalty after some excellent work by Tadhg Beirne at the breakdown. It was a positive first 40 for the Blues, with their attack looking sharp and the scrum going well. Halaholo had proven himself a nightmare for the Munster defence, but it was the refereeing during the first half which drew most attention.
Five minutes before the half-time whistle, a call from the TMO stopped a scrappy phase of play, and the decision was to penalise Ellis Jenkins for the use of his elbow in fending a tackle. While player safety has never been so high a priority in rugby, there have been multiple instances – this being the latest, but Parisse’s red card at the start of the season comes to mind too – that show attitudes among the higher-ups in world rugby might be too cautious for the good of the game.
As the second half started, both teams were looking to kick on, and it was the Blues who once more started well. Some strong carrying by the forwards enabled the backs to get quick ball, and Halaholo once more gave the Munster midfield the run-around. A good carry and some trademark stepping left him in acres of space to canter over on the 45-minute mark; Anscombe converted again, and the Blues stretched out to 21-13.
Then came the inevitable fightback from Munster, something which – given how the Blues’ recent games had gone – would have had most home fans feeling uneasy. A series of powerful carries in the tight lead Munster’s pack to within five metres of the Blues tryline, but on this occasion the home defence stood their ground. After pushing Munster back, the Blues back-row then won a penalty at the breakdown and they were able to relieve the pressure.
And so, it was that that was as close as Munster came to any further points in the second half. After a scrappy ten minutes from both teams, where neither side was able to capitalise on the penalties they had won, it looked as though the game was likely to fizzle out.
However, the Blues defence again came through, and they were able to take advantage of some forced errors in the Munster half. Anscombe added three penalties, and with ten minutes remaining the hosts were 30-13 to the good.
Munster were to have one more opportunity to get themselves something out of the game, but the Blues were able to force an error and get themselves back into the opposition half.
With only a few minutes remaining, another penalty was awarded and in spite of settling for the win with another kick at goal, Jenkins indicated to go to the corner. This time it was the forwards who made a real impact on the Munster defence, some accurate and effective carrying leading to a snipe from Tomos Williams.
For the away side, they will look back at that second half with frustration, as they weren’t able to build any momentum in the face of an aggressive Blues defence and some handling errors.
Meanwhile, for John Mulvihill and his cohort, though, this win held massive importance. After a positive off-season and some promising showings in their first three games, a bonus point win against a team which will contend the play-off positions come the end of the season will make for welcome reading.