Cardiff kicked-off their 2022-23 BKT United Rugby Championship with a deserved victory over Munster at the Arms Park.
The Blue and Blacks dominated for large swathes and had plenty of bright moments in the lively encounter. And while the scoreboard never looked convincing they did enough to claim a first victory over Munster in seven attempts, to the delight of the home crowd.
Max Llewellyn gave his side the perfect start and he was instrumental in Cardiff’s second to lead 12-6 at the break.
Jarrod Evans kept their noses in front before a moment of magic from Willis Halaholo put Aled Summerhill away.
It had been a long five months Cardiff had waited to get back on the pitch following a hugely disappointing campaign last time out.
They returned bolstered by four new signings - Thomas Young, Taulupe Faletau, Lopeti Timani and Liam Williams - and all four were in the match day 23.
A period of two minutes silence was held ahead of kick-off in to pay tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, that was followed by a minute's applause for former Wales captain, broadcaster, journalist and friend of the club, Eddie Butler.
Cardiff got off to a flying start in the perfect capital conditions, crossing for the opening try of the campaign within four minutes of action.
A penalty on halfway gave the hosts the initial territory in the Munster 22, and the forwards went through the phases, looking to break down the visiting defence.
Llewellyn was amongst those to truck the ball up, but when Fineen Wycherley failed to hold onto the centre in the tackle, the academy graduate took full advantage to get off the floor and run in.
The conversion from Evans was off target but they remained in the ascent and gave the vocal home crowd plenty to cheer about thanks to a combination of attacking intent and good work at the breakdown.
They were unable to stretch their lead before Ben Healy struck Munster’s first points but new signings Thomas Young, Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams were all showing up well in the opening exchanges, while James Botham and Tomos Williams were displaying their athletic ability.
Cardiff, who lost Owen Lane in the warm-up, were dealt another blow when Liam Williams was helped off with his shoulder in a make-shift sling after taking the ball into contact.
The Wales and British & Irish Lions full-back had been electric in the opening stages and was visibly devastated as he left the field.
Munster grew into the encounter and following a sustained period of pressure, in which the Cardiff defence just about held strong, Healy slotted a second penalty to take the lead.
It appeared as though electric start would count for little and Munster would take a slender lead into the break but Cardiff struck once more with three minute’s to spare.
The try came from a clever set move off the line out with Kristian Dacey collecting the ball off the back of the maul and popping a short pass to Llewellyn.
The centre cut a razor sharp inside line before passing inside to Dacey, who finished the move for his 30th try in Cardiff colours. Evans added the extras to give the Blue and Blacks a 12-6 half-time lead.
Cardiff showed plenty of early attacking endeavour following the restart with international duo Josh Adams and Faletau at the heart of everything good.
The number eight was unfortunate not to create a try for Adams after a barnstorming charge, an outrageous offload and a delightful grubber at the next phase. It did not lead to a try but it left the Arms Park crowd in collective awe.
Faletau’s heroics continued as he sent an impromptu box-kick down the touchline into space on 54 minutes. Young displayed his athleticism to win the race and outstrip some of the cover defence before Shane Daly saved the day for the visitors.
However, for all of Cardiff’s good work, they did not extend their lead and they were punished on 64 minutes.
Having weathered the storm, Munster kicked a penalty to the corner and went through a succession of phases. They punched away at the line until number eight Jack O’Sullivan powered over. Jack Crowley converted to give his side a slender 12-13 lead.
Cardiff came storming back but were unable to penetrate and instead settled for a simple Evans penalty to go 15-13 in front.
Despite their territorial dominance, it was a tense finale at the capital and Cardiff knew they needed another score to settle the nerves.
Replacement Halaholo was on hand to provide the sprinkle of magic needed, with his goose step drawing in two defenders, allowing Summerhill to put on the after-burners and finish impressively.
Cardiff will now head to Glasgow on Friday before welcoming Emirates Lions to the Arms Park later in the month.