Munster spoiled Cardiff Blues’ return to the Arms Park with a hard-fought 20-11 victory to maintain a nine-point lead at the top of the Guinness PRO14’s Conference B.

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The Blues have not been able to play at their home ground for over a year due it to being used as part of a coronavirus hospital at the adjoining Principality Stadium and have been forced to host matches at Rodney Parade and the Cardiff City Stadium.

Seb Davies scored the Blues’ try while Ben Thomas kicked two penalties, but three missed kicks from him ultimately cost his side a morale-boosting win.

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Jean Kleyn and Chris Cloete crossed for Munster, with JJ Hanrahan adding two penalties and two conversions.

Munster dominated the first 10 minutes, so it was against the run of play when the hosts took the lead.

A burst from Mason Grady got the Blues moving forward and when they entered the opposition 22, a well-timed pass from Thomas sent Davies through a gap in the defence to score.

Minutes later, Davies picked up a yellow card for a dangerous entry into a ruck, but the only score in the lock’s absence was a penalty from Hanrahan.

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Despite Davies’ return, the visitors continued to have the lion’s share of possession and territory, but Cardiff’s defence held firm, so the only further scores before half-time were an exchange of penalties from Thomas and Hanrahan.

Three minutes after the restart, Munster had the chance to take the lead for the first time, but Hanrahan’s angled kick from 45 metres rebounded back off the crossbar.

From a similar range, Thomas was on target for his second successful penalty before Munster finally got their reward for their dominance when Kleyn crashed over from close range following a succession of forward drives.

Hanrahan converted before Thomas missed with two penalties to leave Munster with a two-point lead going into the final quarter.

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Munster brought on Joey Carbery for his first game in an over a year and also Billy Holland, who took his tally for the province to 241 games and in so doing moved into second place in their all-time appearance chart ahead of Ronan O’Gara.

With two minutes remaining, Munster sealed the victory when a fierce line-out drive proved unstoppable, ending with flanker Cloete crashing over.

Hanrahan’s touchline conversion deprived the Blues of a deserved bonus point.

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