Head to Head
Cardiff and Munster have a long history of fixtures stretching back to the first European game between the two teams in October 1996. The early years saw big scores for the Welsh team as Munster struggled and until recently the 60-14 victory in 2004 was Cardiff’s biggest victory in the many guises of the Pro14. But in recent years, the advantage has shifted in the Irishmen’s favour. Whilst the games are invariably close, the home team have won only once in eight recent outings against Munster at Cardiff Arms Park.
Since his appointment in October 2016, Rassie Erasmus has the best coaching record of any of the current top coaches in Europe. His team has only lost six games away from home and only three outside Ireland. His 74% success rate is up there with Mark McCall and ahead of Munster’s greatest rivals Leinster’s Leo Cullen.
Thirty-five year old South African Stuart Berry will be refereeing his ninth Pro14 game this week and his second of the season featuring Cardiff. Never far from controversy in his Super Rugby days, he’s managed to avoid the limelight so far in the Pro14. Averaging over 21 penalties a game and 1.5 cards per game, he’s one of the more whistle-happy officials in the league.
Munster lack line breakers in their team and have the worst record in the league for line breaks. Neither Cardiff nor Munster returns good stats for defenders beaten, and there’s little difference in the offloading stats between the two sides. Munster are running 377 meters per game on average, whereas Cardiff’s figure is near the bottom of the league with only 341 meters per game. But on the scoreboard – where it counts – the Irishmen have score 116 points more than Cardiff in the Pro14 this season.
Only the Cheetah’s scrum stats are better than Munster’s in the Pro14 this season. The Irishmen have only lost five times against the head so far – half that of Cardiff. However, the figures are almost reversed at the lineout, where Cardiff have the best lineout in the league and Munster have conceded twice as many lineouts on their own throw as the Welshmen.
Cardiff’s 87% tackle completion ratio this season is one of the best in Europe and some way ahead of Munster’s 83% (though of course Munster have faced tougher competition in the Champions Cup). Looking closer, we can see that Munster’s 86% is little different from Cardiff’s 87% across all games in the Pro14. The Welshmen’s 233 tackle in one game (vs Connacht) still stands at the highest number made in one game this season. But for all this highlight figure, Cardiff have conceded almost twice as many tries (44) as Munster (27) in the Pro14. So despite individual excellence, defensive organisation remains a weakness at the club.
It’s been some time since Cardiff faced a team with a worse disciplinary record this season, but for the second week in a row, the opposition have been carded more than the home team this season. With three away reds this season, no team has been red carded more than the Munstermen. Indeed, there is a marked difference between discipline at home – where they’ve only received two yellow cards, and the 8 cards they’ve received away from home. Cardiff have also only been carded twice at home. Only the Scarlets and Leinster have been penalised on fewer occasions at home than Cardiff this season, and Munster’s away record is equally impressive, having conceded only 62 penalties in 6 away games. All this means that Munster players are receiving cards once every 13 penalties (only Treviso have a lower figure).
Munster’s much bigger playing budget affords them greater cover in depth during the Six Nations, but the home side will take heart from last week’s narrow victory over the Cheetahs. Wilson has the luxury of naming only one change in his starting XV and a stronger bench than he did against the Cheetahs. Munster struggled on the synthetic turf in Glasgow, making only 52 tackles all game. With dry weather forecast, expect the home team to make better use of the conditions and squeeze home with a narrow victory of 22-17.