Munster book final play-off berth
May 9, 2010
Jamie Roberts scored the only try of the game in Cardiff
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Munster have booked their place in the Magners League play-offs despite slipping to a 13-12 defeat to Cardiff Blues at the Cardiff City Stadium.
A losing bonus point proved enough for Tony McGahan's men and their reward is a trip to face old rivals Leinster in a thrilling rerun of the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final, which was won by Leinster at a canter.
The reigning champions may have lost but they had too much grit for the Blues, who began the day chasing an unlikely double after booking their place in the European Challenge Cup final with victory over Wasps last weekend. The home side required a bonus point win to progress to the finals but were found wanting against an under-strength Munster outfit who nevertheless exhibited all of the spiky determination that has become their trademark.
Blues centre Jamie Roberts scored the only try of the game in the first-half and Leigh Halfpenny booted the winning points from inside his own half in the dying seconds, eclipsing 12 points from the ever-reliable boot of Ronan O'Gara. There were nervy moments for Munster in the closing stages as Edinburgh took Leinster to the wire in Dublin, but a late flurry from their rivals in blue secured their passage.
Munster dominated the early phases and almost pounced for the opening try with Nick Williams' break from a ruck. Cardiff scrambled frantically and after a scintillating break from his 22 by Xavier Rush, Ben Blair sent his first penalty attempt wide of the uprights. Blair's recent profligacy with the boot continued with his next attempt but the former All Black finally found his range from dead in front to secure a deserved lead. Unfortunately for the home faithful the Blues' advantage was short-lived as O'Gara levelled the scores with his first effort.
Munster piled the pressure on with a powerful kick chase and were just denied by Darren Allinson's interception of an O'Gara chip. The Blues won a penalty in the shadow of their posts and opted for a quick one, Leigh Halfpenny streaking away before kicking long. With a big territorial gain the Blues attacked with renewed vigour. Ceri Sweeney and Deiniol Jones stretched the visitors before Casey Laulala's blindside burst opened the space for Roberts to power over.
O'Gara immediately reduced the arrears with his second penalty and after more pedestrian play from the Blues he slotted his third to close the gap to a single point. Laulala sent a wonky drop-goal wide of the uprights as the Blues forced the play, replacement Dafydd Hewitt also blowing a chance before the break when presented with a sniff of the line out wide. With nerves creeping in for the home side O'Gara kept his cool to secure a half-time advantage with his fourth penalty.
O'Gara took all of the pace out of the game by arrowing kicks to the corners in the opening stages of the second-half and the Blues grew increasingly anxious as time ticked away. Williams continued to prove a menace at the breakdown and Cardiff were unable to create any momentum against the organised defence of the visitors.
Munster cranked up the pressure by swarming all over the home side as they looked to clear from a scrum close to their try-line, but a knock on spared the Blues as David Wallace looked to punish their lack of accuracy. Then, a moment of stupidity from Marcus Horan, slapping the ball from Darren Allinson's hand, saw the Ireland loose-head sent for 10 minutes in the bin.
The Blues poured forward in pursuit of a try after a strong break through midfield by Sweeney, but Laulala's grubber rebounded favourably for Munster and Peter Stringer hacked clear. Halfpenny gathered but was turned over, with O'Gara electing for a cross kick to Lifeimi Mafi rather than a shot at goal.
The fly-half took the conservative option moments later after the ball had eluded Mafi but could not find the accuracy to extend the lead to five points. Moments later the Blues fired a warning shot across the bow with a break by Roberts, which ended with Munster's replacement No.8 John Coughlan beating Hewitt to a well judged chip by Martyn Williams. Munster kept scrapping to the final moments but Halfpenny's massive kick secured the spoils for the Blues in this battle, if not the war.
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