Munster go seven points clear after six-try rout of Cardiff
JJ Hanrahan lands all 10 kicks to claim 24-point haul at Thomond Park
Munster winger Gerhard van den Heever goes over for the fourth try to secure the bonus point against Cardiff Blues in the RaboDirect Pro12 game at Thomand Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Munster 54 Cardiff Blues 13: Munster’s biggest win of the season moved them seven points clear at the top of the RaboDirect Pro12 after another Welsh side were put to the sword at Thomond Park.
The six-try victory came in the wake of Munster head coach Rob Penney announcing his decision to leave the province at the end of the current campaign, and on the same day that Ireland proved too strong for Wales at the Aviva Dtadium.
It proved to be no distraction for his players as they carved open Cardiff in the second half, scoring three tries while Blues replacement prop Patrick Palmer was in the sin bin.
The Welsh region were only 19-13 behind at the break but that run of tries – Simon Zebo and Gerhard van den Heever added to a penalty try – put the hosts in full control.
With their bonus point secured, Munster added some late gloss as Andrew Conway and CJ Stander both went over, with outhalf JJ Hanrahan brilliantly landing 10 kicks from as many attempts for a 24-point tally.
Despite the difficult wet conditions, Munster made a bright start with Thomond Park debutant Van den Heever threatening from a Hanrahan cross-field kick.
Hanrahan and Gareth Davies swapped penalties before direct running from captain and man-of-the-match James Coughlan took him close to the try-line, and prop Dave Kilcoyne plunged over from the ensuing ruck.
Hanrahan converted but the Blues answered back within three minutes, Harry Robinson countering from a loose kick and breaking free on the right wing to send centre Owen Williams over in the corner.
Davies swung over a cracking conversion kick to bring the visitors level at 10-all.
Former Cardiff centre Casey Laulala and Johne Murphy led an assault down the right wing as Munster got back on course, with successive penalties following from Hanrahan’s right boot.
The Blues continued to be economical without threatening too much, picking up a penalty on the half hour which Davies slotted for 16-13.
However, the gap was out to six points after Hanrahan punished Cardiff skipper Sam Hobbs for not rolling away on the stroke of half-time.
The second half was rather listless until Munster put pressure on in the scrum and a series of indiscretions saw Palmer yellow-carded by referee Giuseppe Vivarini.
The resulting 60th-minute scrum, which included replacement Thomas Davies, was also dropped and Munster were awarded their penalty try which Hanrahan converted.
Fullback Zebo – keen to force his way back into the Ireland squad – then celebrated his first start since October with a well-taken try, following a final pass from Coughlan and a barnstorming run in the build-up from prop James Cronin.
Hanrahan booted the ball wide for South African Van den Heever to run in from the right for the bonus-point score, and the half-century was in sight after replacement Conway dribbled through and dived for try number five.
Television match official Seamus Flannery confirmed the grounding and he was also involved in the awarding of flanker Stander’s injury-time try, a powerful drive and stretch for the line.
MUNSTER: Zebo; Van den Heever, Laulala, D Hurley, J Murphy; Hanrahan, Williams; Kilcoyne, Casey, Archer; Donncha O’Callaghan, D Foley; Stander, B O’Mahony, Coughlan. Replacements: Cronin for Kilcoyne, Dougall for B O’Mahony (both 61 mins), Sheridan for Williams, J Ryan for Archer ( both 68 mins, Conway for Laulala, Keatley for D Hurley, B Holland for D Foley ( all 69 mins), Slattery for Casey (72 mins).
CARDIFF BLUES: Fish; Robinson, O Williams, Evans, Czekaj; G Davies, L Williams; Hobbs, Dacey, Bourrust; Dicomidis, Paulo; Cook, E Jenkins, Copeland. Replacements: Down for Dicomidis (41 mins), Palmer for Bourrust (49 mins), T Davies for Czekaj, Breeze for Dacey (60 mins), Humberstone for G Davies (68 mins), Tuifua for T Davies (71 mins), Hamilton for Cook (76mins). Not used: Jones. Sin Bin: Palmer (60 mins).
Referee: Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy).