The Tom Savage column: Brutal battle showed the Munster-Leinster derby still matters

The Tom Savage column: Brutal battle showed the Munster-Leinster derby still matters

Leinster’s James Lowe is shown a red card by referee Frank Murphy. Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr

I THOUGHT these games were supposed to have lost their “edge”?

If so, no one told Munster. Or Leinster, for that matter.

This was as physical and — let’s call it as it is — brutal a game of rugby as I’ve seen in some time. It was the kind of game that made a fool of the many, many pundits who felt that y’know, Munster vs Leinster games have just *lost* something.

If that something was two yellow cards, a red card and another possible red card then they found that something here. This game started ugly and finished ugly, with a small outbreak of rugby somewhere in the middle. Of that little bit of rugby, Munster just about edged it.

Of the UFC, Leinster lost decisively.

I’m all for a bit of rough and tumble on the rugby pitch. It’s all I was good at whenever I laced up a pair of boots, in fairness, so I know that in derby games you go out there to leave a mark on the opposition. You try to “keep it in the pants” so to speak, but you want them to remember you after the game, just not for the rest of their life, if that makes sense.

Some of the shots going in were b-r-u-t-a-l. These guys aren’t mini rugby tots either.

Munster's Fineen Wycherley scuffles with Johnny Sexton of Leinster. Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr
Munster's Fineen Wycherley scuffles with Johnny Sexton of Leinster. Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr

This was practically a full strength Munster XV going toe to toe with a Leinster side that featured Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, James Ryan, Scott Fardy, Josh Van Der Flier, Jack Conan, Luke McGrath, Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose, Jordan Larmour and James Lowe.

This wasn’t a “shadow” Leinster side, as if they do those anyway with their strength and depth. This was two traditional rivals knocking several shades of the proverbial out of each other with bad intentions.

Which is fine, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Have a little scrap. Go on, why not?

The odd high shot is fine too, we’ve all seen them. But when it comes to three in quick succession, Cian Healy goes for a 10-minute sit-down.

When Tadhg Furlong cracked Cloete on the head recklessly, he saw yellow too. Could have been red, maybe should have been, but whatever.

Then James Lowe took out Conway in the air and it was a red card.

Leinster, it seems, were rattled. Maybe it was the physicality of the Munster defence and the quality of the line speed.

Maybe it was Bantry’s Fineen Wycherley getting stuck into Johnny Sexton when the World Player Of The Year tried getting saucy with him and lifted Leinster’s captain up off the ground like you would a toddler kicking off in a McDonalds.

Maybe it was a combination of all of these things. Leinster, rattling away, lost their heads and spoiled the game for themselves as a result.

In the end, Munster won. They won the fight first and then the game. In rugby, you lose the fight when you walk.

Johann Van Graan praised Munster’s discipline after the match and he was right to do so - this was a game that would be easy for Munster to get into the tit for tat stuff. Do that though, and you risk losing.

Castres tried similar provocations and when Munster didn’t react, they were said to have “lost” the forward battle. Stay calm and win, and it’s a different story.

It’s amazing what that W will do for your prospects. Lose — like in Castres — and you’re soft. Win — like here — and you stayed calm in the face of physical provocation. It was ever thus.

Josh van der Flier is tackled by Jeremy Loughman and Niall Scannell. Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr
Josh van der Flier is tackled by Jeremy Loughman and Niall Scannell. Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr

Of the actual rugby, I thought Munster played a pretty pragmatic game. When they had the opportunity to take three points, even against 13 and 14 men, they took them and landed them.

Why?

I think because they realised that losing a winger is probably the handiest player to lose for the game if you have to lose anyone and a team as good as Leinster can mostly play the same way — as they did for nearly 50 minutes here — so playing loose would more than likely see you punished, as many teams have been in the past and will be again.

So Munster chipped away. Three points, three points, three points and, just like that, Munster were two scores ahead.

They’d stay there and then secure the win off an intercept try from Keith Earls late in the game before a consolation try for Leinster.

It wasn’t pretty but it was effective.

A win of any hue against this Leinster side is to be applauded.

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