Munster spoil Cardiff Blues' return to Arms Park
PRO14 FRIDAY WRAP: Munster spoiled Cardiff Blues’ return to the Arms Park with a hard-fought 20-11 victory to maintain a nine-point lead at the top of the Pro’s Conference B.
In Friday’s other matches, Ulster triumphed 21-7 over the Ospreys at the Kingspan Stadium but failed to secure the bonus point that would have heaped maximum pressure on Conference A leaders Leinster and Connacht survived a major scare as Bundee Aki crossed in the final minute to snatch a 19-17 Pro14 win at Benetton.
Cardiff Blues 11-20 Munster
The Blues have not been able to play at their home ground for over a year due it to being used as part of a coronavirus hospital at the adjoining Principality Stadium and have been forced to host matches at Rodney Parade and the Cardiff City Stadium.
Seb Davies scored the Blues’ try while Ben Thomas kicked two penalties, but three missed kicks from him ultimately cost his side a morale-boosting win.
Jean Kleyn and Niall Scannell crossed for Munster, with JJ Hanrahan adding two penalties and two conversions.
Connacht had closed the gap on Munster to five points earlier on Friday with their win at Benetton.
Munster dominated the first 10 minutes, so it was against the run of play when the hosts took the lead.
A burst from Mason Grady got the Blues moving forward and when they entered the opposition 22, a well-timed pass from Thomas sent Davies through a gap in the defence to score.
Minutes later, Davies picked up a yellow card for a dangerous entry into a ruck, but the only score in the lock’s absence was a penalty from Hanrahan.
Despite Davies’ return, the visitors continued to have the lion’s share of possession and territory, but Cardiff’s defence held firm, so the only further scores before half-time were an exchange of penalties from Thomas and Hanrahan.
Three minutes after the restart, Munster had the chance to take the lead for the first time, but Hanrahan’s angled kick from 45 metres rebounded back off the crossbar.
From a similar range, Thomas was on target for his second successful penalty before Munster finally got their reward for their dominance when Kleyn crashed over from close range following a succession of forward drives.
Hanrahan converted before Thomas missed with two penalties to leave Munster with a two-point lead going into the final quarter.
Munster brought on Joey Carbery for his first game in an over a year and also Billy Holland, who took his tally for the province to 241 games and in so doing moved into second place in their all-time appearance chart ahead of Ronan O’Gara.
With two minutes remaining, Munster sealed the victory when a fierce line-out drive proved unstoppable, ending with hooker Scannell crashing over.
Hanrahan’s touchline conversion deprived the Blues of a deserved bonus point.
For Cardiff Blues:
Try: S Davies
Pens: B Thomas 2
Tries: Kleyn, N Scannell
Cons: Hanrahan, Carbery
Pens: Hanrahan 2
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Mason Grady, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Ben Thomas, 9 Jamie Hill, 8 Josh Turnbull (captain), 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Corey Domachowski.
Replacements: 16 Liam Belcher, 17 Theo Bevacqua, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 James Ratti, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Dan Fish, 23 Max Llewellyn.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Rory Scannell, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Shane Daly, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Nick McCarthy, 8 Jack O’Sullivan, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Jack O’Donoghue (captain), 5 Fineen Wycherley, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Kevin O’Byrne, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Liam O’Connor, 18 Roman Salanoa, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Gavin Coombes, 21 Paddy Patterson, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Darren Sweetnam.
Referee: Adam Jones
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse, Dan Jones
TMO: Sean Brickell
Ulster 21-7 Ospreys
The four points put Dan McFarland’s side one point behind defending Pro14 champions Leinster ahead of next week’s crunch clash between the sides in Belfast, though the Dubliners play on Sunday.
After being put under huge pressure by a spirited Ospreys outfit, Ulster roared back in the second half through a score from John Andrew and a penalty try and were unlucky not to get over for a fourth touchdown, with Rob Lyttle having three efforts ruled out.
Ulster, even with Jacob Stockdale back from injury, had looked down and out in the opening half against a determined and accurate Ospreys effort which was kicked off by Keelan Giles’ first-minute try.
But in the closing minutes of the half, Nick Timoney set John Cooney up for a score totally against the run of play, with Cooney’s conversion tying things up at 7-7 and effectively changing the course of the game.
The Ospreys had the ideal start when Ian Madigan was charged down by Rhys Webb and Giles won the foot race to the line. Stephen Myler converted the score.
Webb nearly created another for the Ospreys with a searing break down the blind side before Ulster scrambled to plug the gap and survive.
That was the pattern for the remainder of the half, with the Ospreys piling on the pressure by dominating possession and territory while putting Ulster firmly on the back foot, especially in the scrum, where Gareth Thomas did notable damage.
Ulster looked shell-shocked in the face of the Ospreys’ dominance, but then, in the 37th minute, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler’s attempted chip deep in the home side’s territory was blocked, allowing Timoney to pick up and break.
Timoney’s pass found Cooney on his outside and the scrumhalf ran it in, with Dan Evans pulling up with an injury. Cooney then converted to tie the scores just as the half ended.
The score certainly revived Ulster, who began the second half with energy and belief, though again their accuracy looked off in the opening stages, with errors from Cooney and Michael Lowry.
But Ulster battled their way back and, after going to the corner twice, a driving maul saw Andrew dot down in the 54th minute.
Cooney again converted and Ulster now led 14-7.
Two minutes after the hour a Lyttle pass to James Hume was deliberately knocked on by Evans and referee Sean Gallagher awarded Ulster a penalty try, while yellow-carding the Ospreys’ full-back.
However, Ulster failed to score any more points in the remainder of the game, even though Lyttle got over three more times, with each one ruled out.
Tries: Cooney, Andrew, penalty try
Cons: Cooney 2
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Rob Lyttle, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Jordi Murphy (captain), 6 Greg Jones, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 John Andrew, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Cormac Izuchukwu, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Matt Faddes, 23 Robert Baloucoune.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Rhys Webb (captain), 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 Will Griffiths, 5 Rhys Davies, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Gareth Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Gareth Evans, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Joe Hawkins, 23 Luke Price.
Referee: Seán Gallagher
Assistant referees: Eoghan Cross, Paul Haycock
TMO: Brian MacNeice
Benetton 17-19 Connacht
With the sides tied at 14-14 heading into the last five minutes, Edoardo Padovani’s penalty looked to have secured a first win in the competition this season for the Italians.
However, Aki touched down following a driving maul at the death to secure an important win in Connacht’s bid to chase down Conference B leaders Munster.
The Westerners trailed their fellow Irish province by nine points heading to Italy, with Munster playing Cardiff Blues later on Friday before a meeting with Connacht at Thomond Park next weekend.
Andy Friend’s side owed much of their struggle in Treviso to a costly Shane Delahunt sin-binning late in the first half for a dangerous tackle on Jayden Hayward.
Connacht led 7-0 at the time thanks to Finlay Bealham’s early try, but – with the visitors down to 14 men – Benetton moved in front before half-time through converted tries from Davide Ruggeri and Leonardo Sarto.
Paddy McAllister touched down to level up the scoreline once more early in the second half but it was Benetton who kicked on from that point.
However, a rare victory was cruelly ripped from their grasp when Ireland centre Aki found the line with Connacht’s last-ditch effort.
Having come close to touching down moments earlier amid sustained pressure on the Benetton line, Bealham burrowed over in the 16th minute, with Conor Fitzgerald adding the extras.
Connacht were dealt a blow when Delahunt was penalised for lifting Hayward above the horizontal and planting him on his back, earning him 10 minutes in the bin.
The Italians swiftly made their visitors pay when Ruggeri powered his way over next to the posts and Padovani levelled the scores.
Benetton were in front by half-time, spreading the ball out to the left wing, where Sarto expertly stepped back inside to find the gap and showed a tremendous turn of pace to race for the line, with Padovani again on target from the tee.
Connacht emerged for the second half determined to make amends and promptly touched down through McAllister before Delahunt had returned to the field.
Fitzgerald restored parity, but with the game in the balance it was Benetton who finished the stronger and Padovani kicked them into a winning position.
However, Connacht’s decision to kick for the corner from their remaining penalties eventually paid off when Aki produced the winning touchdown.
Tries: Ruggeri, Sarto
Cons: Padovani 2
Tries: Bealham, McAllister, Aki
Cons: Fitzgerald 2
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Joaquin Riera, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Edoardo Padovani, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain), 8 Riccardo Favretto, 7 Manuel Zuliani, 6 Davide Ruggeri, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Ivan Nemer, 2 Corniel Els, 1 Thomas Gallo.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Zac Nearchou, 19 Matteo Canali, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Alberto Sgarbi, 22 Luca Petrozzi, 23 Ratuva Tavuyara.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Peter Sullivan, 13 Tom Daly, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Jarrad Butler (captain), 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Oisin Dowling, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Paddy McAllister.
Replacements: 16 Jonny Murphy, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Niall Murray, 20 Sean Masterson, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Jack Carty, 23 John Porch.
Referee: Marius Mitrea
Assistant referees: Federico Vedovelli, Filippo Russo
TMO: Stefano Pennè