Munster book Pro14 play-off spot
PRO14 REPORT: CJ Stander produced a rousing cameo from the bench as Munster came from behind to beat Cardiff Blues 45-21 and secure their Pro14 Finals place.
Needing victory to seal qualification, the hosts – second in Conference A ahead of kick-off – recovered from Tomos Williams’ early score to lead by three points at half-time.
Williams added another as the Blues threatened to spoil Munster’s party, but substitute Stander scored shortly after arriving on the field to spark a comeback.
Conor Murray, Andrew Conway and Sammy Arnold then added late efforts as the hosts’ sealed their Finals place in style.
It took just seven minutes for the opening score of the game to come, but instead of the hosts establishing their dominance early on, it was the visitors who took a shock lead thanks to a moment of magic from Williams.
Gareth Anscombe, a key part of Wales’ recent Grand Slam win, found the onrushing Rey Lee-Lo, who in turn passed to Williams to weave his way over.
But Munster – particularly on home soil – present fierce opposition, and Johann van Graan’s men hit back just 10 minutes later through Chris Farrell, the centre using supreme force to crash his way through two Blues defenders and score after Peter O’Mahony had turned the ball over deep in the visitors’ 22.
Buoyed by the Ireland international’s effort, Munster continued to press for more, and a spell of relentless pressure saw lock Jean Kleyn power over from a dominant line-out.
In the face of a barrage, Cardiff, though, simply refused to fold – and had the reward their defensive toil deserved when the in-form Aled Summerhill combined with Matthew Morgan and Anscombe to race clear down the left.
That meant Munster held just a slender three-point advantage at the break, and with a Finals place still within grasp, Blues retook the initiative at the start of the second-half.
Scrumhalf Williams, a standout throughout with his sniping runs and soft hands, took a quick tap-and-go in Munster’s 22 before surging through a gap and sending Lee-Lo over.
With the significant prize of qualification up for grabs, Van Graan’s response was to call on the big guns on the bench – and it paid dividends.
Stander bulldozed his way over to restore his side’s advantage, with Murray extending the Munster lead from short-range.
Conway then made sure of the points shortly after, the back flying over in the corner following fine play from Stander and Farrell’s fizzed pass.
And there was still time for one final Munster score, as Arnold – making his first appearance since January – dotted down to cap a fine night at the office for the home side.
Tries: Farrell, Kleyn, Stander, Murray, Conway, Arnold
Cons: Bleyendaal 5, Hanrahan
For Cardiff Blues:
Tries: Williams, Summerhill, Lee-Lo
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Kevin O’Byrne, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Josh Turnbull, 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Kristian Dacey (captain), 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 George Earle, 20 James Botham, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Garyn Smith, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)