United Rugby Championship: Munster seal play-off spot with bonus-point win over Cardiff

David Skippers

Munster booked their spot in the inaugural United Rugby Championship’s play-offs courtesy of a 42-21 bonus-point victory against Cardiff at Musgrave Park on Friday.

The Irish province were full value for their win as they held and edge for long periods and were leading 27-14 at half-time.

In the end, Munster outscored their visitors by five tries to three with Mike Haley and Craig Casey scoring a brace apiece while Thomas Ahern also crossed the whitewash. Munster’s other points came via three conversions and as many penalties from Ben Healy while Joey Carbery also added a two-pointer off the kicking tee.

For Cardiff, Seb Davies, Rey Lee-Lo and Lloyd Williams scored tries which were all converted by Jarrod Evans.

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Cardiff silenced the Cork crowd with early tries from Davies and Lee-Lo, but Munster hit back before the interval with Haley’s brace and Ahern’s score on the stroke of half-time.

Leading 27-14 at the break with Healy having landing five kicks, the hosts leaked an opportunist try to Cardiff scrum-half Lloyd Williams in the 55th minute as the visitors looked to get back into the match.

However, the Welsh side could not avoid their fourth straight URC defeat as livewire replacement Casey touched down twice to seal a five-try Munster triumph.

This was a rip-roaring encounter right from the start, Hallam Amos getting on the outside of Conor Murray to send lock Davies over inside two minutes.

Evans converted and also added the extras to Lee-Lo’s effort, which came from another Amos break. Evans tidied up a loose pass and flung the ball wide for the Samoan centre to score.

In between, Munster full-back Haley flew in behind the posts after nice hands from Rory Scannell and Jack O’Donoghue.

Healy converted that score and a penalty from the fly-half closed the gap to 14-10, but Simon Zebo was denied on two occasions as Cardiff, who lost Rory Thornton to a shoulder injury, stood firm.

However, Haley sidestepped through in the 25th minute to score from the edge of the Cardiff 22 and Healy’s conversion made it 17-14.

Amos’ night – and perhaps his career as he is retiring once this season is over – was cruelly ended by a hamstring injury after half-an-hour before a Healy penalty made it a six-point game.

Munster snuck in another try just before the break, young lock Ahern driving over for Healy to convert.

A stop-start third quarter was scoreless until Cardiff scrum-half Williams jinked past John Ryan off a ruck, going in under the posts after James Botham’s initial break.

Munster lifted the tempo in response, Casey the beneficiary of an O’Donoghue offload to bag the bonus point. Fellow replacement Carbery converted to further extend the home side’s lead.

The Irish province got over the line again with eight minutes remaining, Casey taking a quick tap to duck under Ley-Lo’s tackle and cross from five metres out.

Bulls hold off Glasgow Warriors in Pretoria

In the day’s earlier game, the Bulls kept their hopes of hosting a home quarter-final alive when they secured a 29-17 triumph over Glasgow Warriors in Pretoria.

Glasgow’s defeat means their United Rugby Championship play-off hopes could go down to a season-ending clash with Scottish rivals Edinburgh.

A win would have earned Warriors a place in the quarter-finals with a game to spare, but their failure to stretch their advantage over the ninth-placed Scarlets means they remain at risk of being caught.

The Scarlets visit the Ospreys on Saturday and a defeat for the men from Llanelli – assuming they do not collect two bonus points in the process – would send Glasgow through.

However, should Dwayne Peel’s side, who currently trail Warriors by seven points, end the weekend within five of the Scottish club, then Glasgow’s involvement in the knockouts would go down to the final round.

Danny Wilson’s men took the lead through a penalty try at Loftus Versfeld but conceded scores through Zak Burger, Madosh Tambwe, Walt Steenkamp and Cyle Brink before Ollie Smith added a late consolation. The Bulls are now all but assured of their place in the last eight.

Glasgow put their hosts under early pressure and were rewarded for their decision to kick for the corner when the collapsing of a line-out maul led to a penalty try, while the Bulls had Elrigh Louw sin-binned.

The home side emerged from Louw’s 10 minutes on the sidelines back on level terms, with Burger having applied the finish after Ruan Nortje put the Bulls on the Glasgow line.

Morne Steyn added the extras and pulled the Bulls level for a second time after Duncan Weir had nudged Glasgow back in front from the tee.

Veteran fly-half Steyn then missed a relatively straightforward attempt, but the Bulls moved in front for the first time before the break.

An accumulation of penalties led to Glasgow prop Zander Fagerson being yellow-carded as the clock reached 40, and the Bulls immediately took advantage as an excellent team move ended with Tambwe going over on the right wing. Steyn rediscovered his range to make it 17-10 at the interval.

Tambwe was denied a second try by a tight offside call 11 minutes into the second half, but the Bulls soon kicked on and claimed a bonus point as Steenkamp and Brink both powered over. Steyn converted Steenkamp’s effort before replacement Chris Smith hit a post following the latter touchdown.

Ollie Smith crossed for Glasgow in the last 10 minutes, converted by Ross Thompson, but it was not enough to avoid leaving South Africa empty-handed, with the full-back later seeing a try ruled out for a forward pass.

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