Jones returns to seal Munster win
February 24, 2012
Felix Jones scored Munster's only try
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Felix Jones made a try-scoring return to Thomond Park as his early score helped Munster scramble to a 16-13 RaboDirect PRO12 win over the Cardiff Blues.
Munster were left sweating by the finish as they were held scoreless in the second half, with the Blues battling back to within three points of their play-off rivals. It was a welcome result for Munster in a week in which their head coach Tony McGahan's departure for the Wallaby defensive post was all but confirmed.
Dan Parks had kicked Cardiff in front but Jones' try and four successful kicks from Ian Keatley gave Munster a 16-3 interval lead. Richard Mustoe's 48th-minute touchdown laid the foundations for Cardiff's comeback, but they fell just short in the end.
Jones had a settling early touch as he made his first start for Munster since his Rugby World Cup hopes were extinguished by a foot injury in August. The Blues nosed ahead thanks to Parks' fifth minute opener, but Keatley punished Gavin Henson for going offside when kicking the hosts level from outside the 22.
Munster had the psychological advantage when a BJ Botha-inspired scrum won them a pressure-lifting penalty, and they struck for their first try in the very next phase. Simon Zebo provided the injection of pace, bursting onto Mick O'Driscoll's inviting inside pass to carve open the Cardiff defence and the winger then sent Jones speeding in by the posts.
Keatley converted and tagged on two more successful penalties, the second of which was just a few metres inside the Blues' half.
Munster's forwards had a stranglehold on proceedings, gobbling up the restarts and carrying strongly into contact. Michael Paterson led the Blues' response, breaking over halfway and linking with the busy Richie Rees. The move was swept out to the left corner where only a crucial turnover from Zebo kept the Welshmen out.
Zebo was back on the attack approaching half-time, launching a kick chase which almost created a second try. The Cardiff scrum crumpled again late on, however Keatley slid the resulting penalty wide in the final minute of the half.
Henson darted through a midfield gap to set up a good position for the Blues early in the second period. They duly took advantage, a timely thread of passes putting winger Mustoe over in the right corner. Parks' conversion closed the gap to 16-10 with the visitors, benefiting from an improving scrum, clearly upping it in the physicality stakes.
Although Parks missed a kickable penalty, the Blues continued to force the issue and with Keatley failing to convert a penalty at the other end, the game was there for the taking. Replacements Rhys Thomas, Ceri Sweeney and Ben Blair had an impact for the Blues with the latter landing a central penalty to make it a three-point game.
Paul Tito earned a yellow card for killing Munster ball as the home pack laid siege to the visitors' try-line. However, the hosts could not add to their tally and needed strong defence to see out a breathless victory.
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