Munster finish strongly to see off Cardiff Blues
A strong finish from Munster secured a 35-27 win in Cork and denied Cardiff Blues only their second away victory in the Guinness PRO12 since last September.
Man-of-the-match Ian Keatley converted tries from Jordan Coghlan (61) and Andrew Conway (72) as Anthony Foley's men made it four wins on the bounce, despite a patchy performance overall.
Well-worked tries from Tavis Knoyle and Richard Smith had Cardiff leading 17-14 at the interval, sandwiching converted scores from Munster's Mike Sherry and Keatley.
Tom Isaacs and Sherry swapped tries in the third quarter, but the Irish province outscored the visitors 14-3 over the closing 20 minutes with the Blues ending the game without the sin-binned Jevon Groves.
Munster fell foul of referee Ian Davies' whistle early on, leaking five penalties by the 15-minute mark. Rhys Patchell missed a monster first attempt at the posts and was off-target with two kickable efforts, before the usually reliable fly-half opened the scoring from inside the 22.
Young flanker Ellis Jenkins was prominent during this purple patch for Cardiff, regularly popping up in attack, while Munster's best chance to respond was scuppered by Rory Scannell's sloppy pass with Gerhard van den Heever lurking near the left corner.
The Blues stunned Munster with a tremendous first try, using turnover ball in their own half to send Garyn Smith haring up the right wing - although Patchell's initial pass looked forward. He passed inside to Patchell and scrum half Knoyle was up in support to finish under the posts. Patchell's conversion made it 10-0.
Crucially, Munster lifted the tempo - and the decibel level - and had a try of their own inside four minutes. They built pressure after Van den Heever was hauled down short. With space out wide, Francis Saili's superb looping pass took three out defenders and sent hooker Sherry over in the left corner.
Keatley added the extras and as Munster remained on the front foot, the fly-half took advantage of Gavin Evans' missed tackle to glide in behind the posts.
However, in the final play of the first half, Cardiff profited from some lacklustre Munster defending to work winger Richard Smith over out wide on the left, with Patchell converting with aplomb from the touchline.
Munster's poor tackling was again exposed when Sherry and Jack O'Donoghue failed to stop Isaacs from five metres out. Patchell converted the centre's 43rd-minute try to make it 24-14.
The introduction of Tomas O'Leary following his three-year spell with London Irish, coupled with a textbook maul try from Sherry, saw Munster go up a gear, but Cardiff's defence was exemplary when defending a series of close-in lineouts and mauls.
There was no let-up from the bonus point-hunting hosts, though, as they drove Cardiff off their own scrum five metres out, and replacement flanker Coghlan dived on the loose ball for his first PRO12 try which Keatley converted.
A Patchell three-pointer closed the gap to 28-27, but Saili's deft pass unlocked the Cardiff defence out wide for the increasingly influential Conway to go over.
Groves was binned for a no-arms tackle in the build-up, and Keatley's touchline conversion took a deserved bonus point away from the luckless Blues.