MUNSTER showed their Christmas spirit by gifting visitors Leinster three soft scores in the first quarter of a full-blooded derby clash at Thomond Park.
Though they did mount a second-half comeback, errors and poor game management proved their undoing as Leinster left Thomond Park with a bonus point win.
The capacity crowd of 26,267 roared on the Reds as they clawed their way back into a game that looked beyond them after their first-half performance and tries from Ian Keatley and Andrew Conway added to Conor Murray’s first-half effort, got Munster back in contention at 27-19.
But when the home side looked to be edging towards another try, which could have made it a one-point game, and with the momentum clearly with Munster, they coughed up another needless penalty under the Leinster posts with Dan Leavy forcing Nigel Owens into a decision with his poaching skills.
Poor execution from kicking from the hand by Ian Keatley and Conor Murray allowed the Blues plenty of room to attack and with 13 points in as many minutes from the boot of Ross Byrne and Dan Leavy’s try it meant Munster always had a hill to climb in a physical encounter.
Leinster deserve great credit for the way they went about their business when the ball was on the deck, committing a second man, which in turn slowed the Munster ball down and allowed the Leinster defence time to reset.
The visitors also took their chances when they were presented, not something that could be said about Johann van Graan’s side.
Munster earned a losing try bonus point for their efforts but will be kicking themselves that they allowed their greatest rivals to steal an early march on them. The Reds’ defence and discipline have been good over the last few weeks but both deserted them in the first half and they found themselves down 22 points at the interval with the Blues leading 27-5.
Byrne opened the scoring in the first minute from a penalty. Then the Munster defence was caught napping with a delicate crossfield kick by Byrne for man of the match Dan Leavy to dot down in the corner.
Things got worse in the 12th minute with the concession of a third soft penalty with Byrne extending Leinster’s lead to 13.
Munster hit back with a try of their own through Conor Murray who had stepped into the lineout to take the ball, with Jean Kleyn peeling to barge towards the line. He was stopped short but Murray wasn’t going to be stopped four phases later.
Munster though were showing their generous side again and a trip on James Lowe by Andrew Conway saw the Munster full back sent to the bin and Leinster awarded a penalty try.
Worse was to follow in the 25th minutes when Barry Daly and Rory O’Loughlin combined to send Robbie Henshaw in for Leinster’s third try, with Byrne again converting to make it 27-5.
The Reds started the second half on a far more positive note and subs Simon Zebo and Niall Scannell added a bit of bite to the Munster attack as they began to get change from their attacks.
The home side began to claw their way back into the game with a try, firstly by Keatley in the 46th minute which he converted, and then Andrew Conway after Rory Scannell’s long skip pass opened a big hole in the Blues defence, with Keatley again adding the conversion to make it 27-19.
Jordan Larmour had the last say with 10 minutes to go with the score of the game after a poor kick by Keatley was fielded by the Leinster full-back. He ran 60 metres to touch down despite Zebo’s best attempts. Byrne converted to make it 34-19.
Munster weren’t finished, with Andrew Conway adding his second try for a bonus point.
Scorers for Munster: Tries: A Conway (2), I Keatley, C Murray. Cons: I Keatley (2).
Leinster: Tries: D Leavy, pen try, R Henshaw, J Larmour: cons: R Byrne (4), pens: R Byrne (2).
MUNSTER: A Conway, D Sweetnam, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wooton, I Keatley, C Murray, D Kilcoyn, K O’Byrne, S Archer, J Kleyn, B Holland, P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: S Zebo for Sweetnam, N Scannell for O’Byrne (45), J Cronin for Kilcoyne, J Ryan for Archer (61), J O’Donoghue for O’Donnell (60), D O’Shea for Holland, D Williams for Murray (74), JJ Hanrahan for Keatley (71).
LEINSTER: J Larmour, B Daly, R O’Loughlin, R Henshaw, J Lowe, J Gibson Park, J McGrath, J Tracy, M Bent, D Toner, J Ryan, J Murphy, D Leavy, J Conan.
Replacements: E Byrne for McGrath (h-t), M Kearney for Ryan, T Furlong for Bent (45), N Reid for Daly (57), J van der Flier for Murphy, R Strauss for Tracy (65), N McCarthy for Gibson Park (74) Referee: N Owens (Wal).