Munster gave retiring duo CJ Stander and Tommy O’Donnell a winning Thomond Park send-off with a dramatic 31-27 Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup bonus-point victory over Cardiff Blues.
Belatedly responding to Tomos Williams’ early try, Munster reeled off three converted scores between the 29th and 37th minutes – hooker Niall Scannell touched down twice – to lead 21-10 at half-time.
Fineen Wycherley also scored for the hosts, but Blues scrum-half Williams completed his brace before his replacement Lloyd Williams made it three tries each while Munster’s Mike Haley was in the sin bin.
A Jarrod Evans penalty edged the Blues back in front at 27-24, only for Munster replacement Keynan Knox to rumble over with six minutes left to move them back to the top of the table.
Winless against Munster since September 2018, Cardiff surged ahead in the second minute when Willis Halaholo ghosted into space and his reverse pass put Williams darting through from 25 metres out.
Fly-half Evans, who had released Halaholo past halfway, converted and he very nearly set up a try for Hallam Amos before tapping over an 18th-minute penalty for 10-0.
Starved of ball and guilty of some sloppy penalties, Munster were struggling and Damian de Allende’s 27th-minute knock-on summed up their lacklustre performance up to that point.
Just a couple of minutes later, however, Craig Casey provided the spark for the hosts amid a couple of penalties. The resulting maul drove Scannell over for Joey Carbery to convert.
Soon benefiting from another Carbery penalty tucked close to the right corner, the Munstermen attacked cleverly through De Allende from the lineout and lock Wycherley barged over from close range.
Carbery converted and also added the extras to Scannell’s second maul effort, with full-back Haley tigerishly setting up the lineout opportunity and the forwards doing the rest.
With Cardiff tightening up their defence on the resumption, backs and forwards combined brilliantly to send Williams scampering through for try number two, converted by Evans. Carbery replied with a quickfire penalty to make it 24-17.
Referee Andrew Brace then produced a yellow for Haley’s tackle on a falling Amos – it was shoulder to head but with mitigating factors – and after a superb burst from Blues captain Josh Turnbull, he fed replacement Williams for the levelling seven-pointer.
Munster went off their feet, allowing Evans to boot Cardiff ahead in the 69th minute, but a Gavin Coombes turnover reignited the home side again, their pick-and-drives leading the 22-year-old Knox’s crucial converted try.
The Blues battled right to the end, wearing Munster down through 20-plus phases until Stander’s successful game-ending captain’s challenge punished Lloyd Williams for kicking the ball back into a ruck.