Munster fail to click into gear

 

Cardiff Blues 20 Munster 12:Magners League champions Munster fell to their second loss in as many games this afternoon, this time at the hands of the Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park. Tony McGahan shuffled his selection after the Heineken Cup semi-final defeat to Leinster last weekend but, despite getting themselves in front with 15 minutes to go, his side suffered a rare consecutive defeat.

Munster won their previous seven league games prior to this and looked on course to make it eight after Kieran Lewis's 64th minute try was converted by Jeremy Manning.

The Blues edged a point ahead, however, after prop Gary Powell touched down minutes later. And they denied Munster a losing bonus point when Ceri Sweeney, on for Jamie Roberts, scored in the 79th minute and Nick Robinson added the extras.

The win secured The Blues' place in next season's Heineken Cup, but injuries to two of their number provided further scares for the British Lions management following the loss of Tom Shanklin and Tomas O'Leary.

Even before kick-off, Leigh Halfpenny felt a twinge in his hamstring and opted to pull out.

Then, early in the second half, centre Jamie Roberts - wearing the same number 12 shirt occupied by Shanklin in midweek - left the field with a shoulder injury, though he did so at a trot and unaccompanied by medical staff.

Afterwards neither man seemed too worried, but Lions coach Ian McGeechan will be waiting for reassurance after further checks.

The Blues commanded the opening exchanges, but lacked the finishing touch. Outhalf Robinson even missed two kickable penalties, before spurning a third opportunity and going for position near the flag.

It paid off, superb handling along the line - particularly by Chris Czekaj, an emergency full-back following Halfpenny's withdrawal - let Tom James trot in on the left.

Munster, a man short after flanker Nick Williams was sin-binned, were under pressure for long periods, but the broke downfield, with full back Denis Hurley leading the way, and battered at the home line until Leamy stretched over.

Robinson finally landed a penalty in first-half injury time, but the three-point interval margin did not reflect their dominance.

Early in the second half, the home side lost Roberts and then almost conceded a try when flanker Niall Ronan raced clear, but a knock-on ruined Munster's chance.

The champions were showing greater urgency and the Blues needed the TV official to rule that first Leamy and then centre Barry Murphy were held up over the line.

Their efforts were eventually rewarded when right-wing Lewis crossed in the corner and Manning converted.

But, in a mirror image of the first half, the Blues scored on their first visit to the Munster 22 since the break, Powell claiming the touchdown.

The video official then voted against the Blues, ruling that Robinson had knocked on after winning a chase after a Martyn Williams kick, but Sweeney made sure of the win with an interception try.