Cardiff Blues 24 Munster 28: Three talking points
Three talking points as Munster steal victory in Cardiff with a late try straight out of the "Old Munster" playbook
Indiscipline costs Blues again
There have been many disappointing defeats so far in this Guinness PRO12 season for Cardiff Blues, but a 28-24 home defeat by Munster is perhaps the most disappointing, albeit for very different reasons. Mark Hammett’s men outscored the Irish province by two tries to one, but kept inviting them back with countless kickable penalties. In fact, the Blues’ penalty count came close to 20 in the first 40 minutes alone as Munster took an 18-14 lead into the break. Playing at full-back, Rhys Patchell was again a lively and willing runner, as was Argentine winger Lucas Amorosino. The debutant eventually finished off a well-worked move involving Patchell for the Blues’ first try. Once again, the Blues lack of clinical finishers also cost them, as it has all season. The artificial pitch gives both teams a chance to get their running game going and the hosts are capable of doing that as their stats showed as the Blues dominated possession: 556 metres made from 122 carries, which was far greater than Munster’s return. There was a notable improvement in the second half, perhaps after a dressing room rollocking from defence coach Dale McIntosh but, after some impressive scrummaging deep in Munster territory – led by veteran tighthead prop Adam Jones – which brought three scrum penalties, the Blues coughed up possession and wasted a great opportunity to get points on the board. Ignoring the two consecutive wins in the European Challenge Cup against weaker opposition, there are signs the Blues are capable of winning in the PRO12 this season, but it is all too sporadic. Despite the hype, they have yet to show this season they can be on top of their game for 80 minutes. If they can, wins will come, but when they drop off as often as they do in matches it becomes costly. It was a familiar story against Munster.
Same old Munster, same old result
Heavily depleted by international call-ups, Anthony Foley made 11 changes to his starting XV and the expectation was that a tough match would come their way. It certainly was on the fast track at the Arms Park. With Ian Keatley retained by Ireland, it was JJ Hanrahan who would lead the way from outside-half. Fortunate that he has a decent record against the Blues. This time out, he landed seven penalties from seven in difficult conditions, six of which came in the first half. Munster’s reputation for never giving up precedes them, as is so often the case with the All Blacks. Even with so many experienced names away, there were enough old shoulders in the Munster pack who could ensure that, if needed, that Munster spirit would see them through. Cue a penalty into the corner, rather than the kick at goal ordered by captain Donncha O’Callaghan. Off the back off that came a poor exit from deep from the Blues into the willing arms of Gerhard van den Heever just inside the Munster half. The winger snaked his way through seven Blues players before eventually being up-ended. Eight phases later and, with three minutes left on the clock, flanker Paddy Butler crashed through the weary Blues defence. It was 24-26 with the conversion to come from wide left into the wind. Hanrahan off the field. Development player Johnny Holland, who made his Munster debut against the Blues almost a year ago, landed a superb swinging conversion attempt to give them the safety net of the Blues needing a try to win. The result: another smash-and-grab win only Munster could conjure up.
Vosawai leads the way at the Arms Park
He may be an Italian international, but the Fiji-born number 8 brings all the assets of so many of his countrymen: strong running, great offloads, and very difficult to bring down, if at all. Again, Vosawai had an outstanding match for the Blues on the artificial pitch at the Arms Park, going over for their second try, as well as making 112 metres from 24 carries. He has quickly become a fierce attacking option for the Welsh region and leads the way in bursting through the gainline, although at times he lacks enough support runners. Today, he put in a man of the match performance, but it’s rare that he doesn’t smash through defences at will and, by admission, he loves the Arms Park surface. Easily one of the acquisitions of the summer, joining from Benetton Treviso, he has to be an early contender for the Blues’ player of the season and for a place in the PRO12 dream team. The Blues may want to get the ball out wide and run it in, but with such a wrecking ball in their back row, they need to use Vosawai more often to drive them down field and push back and suck in opposition defences allowing the wide men to take over with fewer defenders to snuff them out. With flankers like Sam Warburton, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi and Ellis Jenkins, the Blues have big ball carriers and breakdown merchants to get them moving. On current showing, it should be the pack which is the driving force behind the Blues’ offence, not placing a reliance on backs running from deep and ending up out of position. After the international series, the arrival of Wales-qualified Kiwi Gareth Anscombe along with the emergence of Amorosino, and strong running from the likes of Patchell, Wales wing Alex Cuthbert and Dan Fish could see the Blues run in tries for fun, but they need to be running in support of the big men up front rather than trying to make the hard metres themselves.