JJ marks Munster return with two tries in win over Cardiff
Munster 39 Cardiff Blues 16
MUNSTER got back to winning ways against a Cardiff Blues side who threw in the towel despite leading at half-time, but Rassie Erasmus has pressing concerns ahead of the meeting with Leinster next weekend.
Chief amongst those headaches will be the fitness of Jaco Taute. The South African centre was carried off on a stretcher after 19 minutes, and Erasmus admitted that the injury looked “serious”. Taute left the stadium in a brace amid fears that he has damaged knee ligaments. He will undergo a scan today to determine the extent of the damage.
Keith Earls should return for the Aviva showdown but Simon Zebo and Jean Kleyn are rated as 50-50.
The returning Lions trio of Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Conor Murray helped steady the ship during a stuttering first-half performance, with the latter scoring the first of Munster’s five tries.
JJ Hanrahan marked his second debut for the club with two second-half tries after coming on as a replacement, much to the delight of the Thomond Park crowd.
Speculation surrounding who Erasmus’s successor will be has been rife all week and the South African admitted that he had believed David Wessels was the man coming in.
Instead, Wessels turned down Munster in favour of the Melbourne Rebels. Johann van Graan has emerged as the new favourite, yet Erasmus is unconvinced that the current Springboks assistant is on his way to Limerick.
“I know it’s down to one guy, I also thought it was Dave Wessels — at one stage, it was like a certain thing,” Erasmus said. “Now everyone seems pretty sure it’s Johann van Graan, but I’m not so sure it’s Johann van Graan. I’m not sure if the Springboks will let him go because he’s a really brilliant coach. I really don’t know.
“I have got things planned here. If it takes two, three, four or five months, I’ ll be here. David (Nucifora) and Garrett (Fitzgerald) are busy with that for the last four months. I know David said they are down to one person, I can’t tell you who that is. I was just as surprised as the rest of the people that it wasn’t Dave Wessels.”
Cardiff Blues had lost on all seven of their previous visits to Thomond Park, but leading 16-13 at the break, they had a great chance to end that miserable record.
Instead, the bonus-point win moves Munster back into second in Conference A but they had to mount a second-half comeback to cut the gap on table-toppers Glasgow Warriors.
Man of the match Ian Keatley kicked 14 points in an assured all-round display, and given rival out-half Tyler Bley- endaal’s struggles from the tee in recent weeks, Erasmus has a big decision to make ahead of the trip to Dublin.
“We’ve got options at 10, definitely,” Munster’s director of rugby said. “Ian Keatley played really well, controlled the game well. We know what Tyler can do. He didn’t cope with his place-kicking a little bit, it dipped in the last two games, but it’s a matter of time before that comes right.
“JJ as well, he also did really well. I know he played from 15 but he slotted into the fly-half role left and right of the rucks, which was good. That’s a nice challenge to have.”
Jarrod Evans kicked the visitors into an early lead but Murray put Munster ahead when he cleverly touched down at the base of the post after 13 minutes.
Keatley converted but Cardiff immediately hit back through an Evans penalty before Josh Turnbull scored in the corner, with out-half Evans converting for a 13-7 lead.
Both teams’ discipline went out the window in a scrappy remaining 17 minutes. Evans added another penalty between Keatley’s two as Cardiff went into the break 16-13 in front.
“We felt during the first half we were making the same mistakes that we made against Glasgow,” Erasmus said. “What Cardiff really do well is if you start playing in your own half . . . it is on, there is space, but because they go so hard at the breakdown, if you concede penalties, it’s three, six points. When we got out of our half in the second half, we didn’t concede a point in that period.”
Munster were rampant in the second half. Keatley tacked on a second penalty before Taufa’ao Filise was sent to the bin and the hosts ran riot.
John Ryan started the try-scoring spree 12 minutes after the restart. Robin Copeland and Hanrahan’s double, as well as Keatley’s boot, completed the rout.
The Aviva hasn’t been a happy hunting ground of late for Munster and even though they have a few injuries to contend with, they will at least go into the meeting with their old foes having rediscovered that winning feeling. Scorers — Munster: Hanrahan 2 tries, Murray, Ryan, Copeland 1 try each; Keatley 4 cons & 2 pens. Cardiff Blues: Turnbull try; Evans con & 3 pens.
Munster: A Conway (JJ Hanrahan 53); D Sweetnam, J Taute (C Farrell 19), R Scannell, A Wootton; I Keatley, C Murray (D Williams 73); D Kilcoyne (L O’Connor 72), N Scannell (R Marshall 57), J Ryan (S Archer 61); R Copeland (M Flanagan 70), B Holland; P O’Mahony (capt) (S McCarthy 74), T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Cardiff Blues: R Williams (M Morgan 61); B Scully (capt) J Roberts (S Shingler 14), W Halaholo, T James (K Assiratt 28); J Evans, T Williams (L Williams 71); B Thyer (C Domachowski 71), M Rees (E Lewis 63), T Filise; G Earle (S Davies 63), J Down; J Turnbull, O Robinson, N Williams (M Cook 61).
Referee: Q Immelman (South Africa).
Munster prop John Ryan scores his side’s second try against Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park