Laulala snatches it at the death
Cardiff Blues 18 Munster 24:MUNSTER MADE it three on the bounce and five consecutive victory over the Cardiff Blues as Casey Laulala grabbed a win by racing over the line with minutes to spare. But it was the 80 minutes clocked by Ronan O’Gara and an impressive performance from Ian Keatley that was most notable for the men in red.
Munster lead 10-3 at the interval following Tommy O’Donnell’s first try. The Blues fought back and grabbed a touchdown either side of O’Donnell’s second but former Cardiff star Laulala returned to haunt his old team-mates with a try at the death.
Munster were depleted by international call-ups but welcomed back Ronan O’Gara who started at outhalf, with Ian Keatley moving across to centre.
Cardiff were also missing eight players due to international call-ups and lost their captain Andries Pretorius in the hours before kick-off. But the hosts made a rousing start at the Arms Park, with their ball carriers rampaging into Munster. Jason Tovey missed an early shot at goal but quickly made amends after Stephen Archer was caught offside.
But Munster demonstrated their killer instinct and grabbed a try from their first attack. Keatley made the initial break and combined with Luke O’Dea. When the ball was recycled and spread wide, the centre was on hand to release Tommy O’Donnell for the score.
O’Gara converted but he was swiftly sent to the sin-bin for a ruck infringement that halted a Blues attack.
But Munster survived the period without conceding a single point and O’Gara returned to stretch his side’s lead to 10-3 approaching the half-hour mark.
Both sides continued to attack in the closing stages of the half but neither were able to turn pressure into points in an error-strewn match as the scores remained unchanged at the break.
The Blues made a second explosive start following the kick-off with Dafydd Hewitt crashing through Keatley to score in the opening minutes.
As impressive as Keatley was going forward, and could provide backline cover to Ireland, his defensive lapse will give Declan Kidney plenty of food for thought ahead of any potential international call-ups.
Ceri Sweeney slotted the conversion to level the scores and he stretched it further with a penalty after another Ireland hopeful, Felix Jones, was penalised at the breakdown.
The Blues’ lead did not last long as O’Donnell bull-dozed through some soft defence to race over for his second try, with O’Gara again on target with the conversion.
But the unpredictable nature of the game continued and Cardiff were soon back in the lead as they continued to capitalise on mistakes. Peter Stringer was the man at fault after firing his clearing box-kick into Lou Reed and Blues scrum-half showed a neat bit of skill to hack through and dive on the ball. Sweeney failed to add the extras but the try had handed the hosts a 18-17 lead they appeared destined to hold on to.
But they failed to close out the game and they paid the price when Laulala, who only switched to Limerick in the summer, crashed through Tom James to race home with just two minutes left on the clock.
O’Gara slotted the conversion as Munster leap-frogged Leinster into fourth in the league table.
CARDIFF BLUES: D Fish; T Williams, G Evans, D Hewitt, T James; J Tovey, L Jones; C Ma’afu, R Williams, T Filise; L Reed, J Down; L Hamilton, J Navidi, R Copeland. Replacements: C Sweeney for Tovey (45 mins), O Williams for T Williams (57 mins), S Hobbs for Ma’afu (60 mins).
Munster:F Jones; D Howlett, C Laulala, I Keatley, L O’Dea; R O’Gara, D Williams; M Horan, M Sherry, S Archer; D Foley, B Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, S Dougall, T O’Donnell. Replacements: P Butler for Dougall (24 mins), P Stringer for Williams (52 mins), J Ryan and I Nagle for Horan and Foley (both 50 mins).
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (SRU).