Howley cuts through mayhem

Cardiff 48 Munster 18
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The Independent Online
The Irish love to describe their tactical approach as "organised chaos" but to the rest of the rugby-playing world the phrase "pain in the neck" springs more readily to mind.

Munster brought their own extremist brand of sporting mayhem to the Arms Park last night and Cardiff had to fight tooth and nail to keep their Heineken European Cup show on the road. It was hardly one for the purists, although Rob Howley underlined his growing reputation as a match-winning scrum-half with three more tries, one an absolute peach, to add to the pair that did for Wasps last Sunday. But for wild excitement, the game lived up to the best of the season so far; the forward exchanges early on, as raw and ferocious as anything you might see in Limerick or Cork, made sure of that.

Anthony Foley and Ben Cronin, the Munster flankers, wreaked such havoc in the loose in the opening half hour that Cardiff, clearly more accomplished at the set-piece and twice as quick outside, found it impossible to settle. Some of their key players, hard men like David Young and Hemi Taylor, took such a physical hammering that the thought of this weekend's trip to Toulouse will make them go weak at the knees.

Foley scored one of the visitors' two first-half tries, the other going to the winger Brian Begley after a 40-yard break from the centre Sean McCahill. But Cardiff stayed in touch through Howley, Simon Hill and Taylor, and when the scrum-half conjured up a magical chip-and-chase score just before the break, the Welshmen knew they had the measure of their task.

Sure enough, they settled the matter in emphatic style on the restart. Three tries in seven minutes knocked the stuffing from the Irish; Emyr Lewis claimed the first from short range, Howley followed up with a pushover and Lewis grabbed his second after supporting a gallop from Gareth Jones.

Lewis, well aware that there is more space in Pavarotti's dressing-room than in the Welsh back row this season, made his pitch for an international recall with some muscular running and when he ploughed over with half of southern Ireland on his back three minutes from time, he registered a hat-trick every bit as deserved as Howley's.

The fact that Cardiff denied Munster a single second-half point spoke volumes for their fitness and organisation. If they can summon up a mighty effort in south-west France on Saturday, they might even snatch themselves a home quarter-final.

It is, however, a seriously tall order. They needed four of their six replacements last night and if Jonathan Davies, a 64th-minute casualty, fails to recover, their chances of a third straight win will be severely dented.

Cardiff: Tries Howley 3, Lewis 3, Hill, Taylor; Conversions Davies 4. Munster: Tries Begley, Foley; Conversion Begley; Penalties Begley, Keane.

Cardiff: J Thomas (I Jones, 51); N Walker, M Hall, G Jones, S Hill; J Davies (L Jarvis, 64), R Howley; L Mustoe, J Humphreys, D Young (P Booth, 50), J Wakeford, D Jones (K Stewart, 51), H Taylor (capt), E Lewis, M Bennett.

Munster: D Crotty; R Wallace, B Walsh, S McCahill, B Begley (P Murray,70); K Keane, S McIvor; I Murray, T Kingston, P McCarthy, M Galwey (capt), G Fulcher, A Foley (L Dineen, 48); L Toland, V Cronin.

Referee: John Bacigalupo (Scotland).