MUNSTER lost to arch-rivals Leinster in a bruising Pro14 encounter at Thomond Park in near freezing conditions on Saturday night, in a game that they will feel they threw away.
Munster led throughout, and had the majority of possession and territory, but they failed to put points on the board at crucial stages, leaving themselves open to a sucker punch of a try from Jordan Larmour late on, leaving Munster head coach Johann van Graan with just one win in nine attempts against Leinster.
JJ Hanrahan opened the scoring for Munster in the 6th minute with a monster penalty from almost the half way line.
Munster then won a scrum penalty around half way and from the resultant lineout scrum half Conor Murray made quick yards, which gave the pack a chance to pound away at the Leinster line. Tadhg Beirne eventually made a huge carry, with Peter O’Mahony and Jean Kleyn adding extra ballast, to blast right through the attempted tackle of James Ryan, for a 12th minute try under the Leinster posts.
Munster completely dominated the first quarter but Rhys Marshall was wayward with his lineout delivery on three occasions, in good positions, which left Leinster off the hook. This allowed Leinster gain a foothold in Munster territory and they were able to get themselves on the scoreboard with a simple Jonathan Sexton penalty in the 25th minute.
It was all Leinster for the next ten minutes with them being camped in the Munster 22 and battering away at the line until form second row Beirne made one of his trademark jackals in the 36th minute on the deck to force a crucial turnover.
Hanrahan had another chance to score a penalty from distance, in what appeared to be the last kick of the first half, but his effort came bouncing back off the post, and a couple of penalties later and Sexton had a chance at the other end, which he took, to make it 10-6 at the break. This six-point swing would prove crucial.
Munster started the second half in the ascendancy, and a series of huge carries, with Gavin Coombes extremely prominent, saw them win a penalty right in front of the posts, but outhalf Hanrahan inexplicably missed to the right from point blank range.
Moments later Munster engineered another attacking opportunity with an attacking lineout in Leinster’s 22, but Marshall missed his man again. These errors ensured that Munster were not capitalising on their dominance in terms of scores, and ultimately would prove crucial come the final whistle.
The man of the match award got wrapped up as early as the 56th minute when Beirne pilfered yet another ball on his own line, when Leinster looked like breaching the Munster line, which allowed replacement outhalf Ben Healy to clear the Munster lines.
Munster controlled territory and possession for the next fourteen minutes but never looked like hurting Leinster on the scoreboard during this period, and when Leinster eventually did get out they took their first chance.
Straight off a lineout, they ran it right and when replacement outhalf Ross Byrne kicked a speculative grubber kick behind the Munster cover it was brilliantly gathered by full back Hugo Keenan who instantly offloaded to winger Jordan Larmour for the easy finish in the corner, which Byrne converted for good measure.
Munster attempted to engineer an attacking position late on to force a scoring opportunity to draw or win the game, but they overused the box kick in the closing moments, which Leinster were able to defend, while in general play Munster’s running game looked toothless in the closing stages and Leinster were easily able to repel them well away from their own tryline.
Scorers for Munster: Hanrahan (1 pen, 1 con), Beirne (1 try)
Leinster: Sexton (2 pens), E. Byrne (1 con), Larmour ( 1 try)
Munster: Haley; Earls, Farrell, de Allende, Daly; Hanrahan, Murray; Cronin, Marshall, Ryan; Kleyn, Beirne; Coombes, O'Mahony (Capt), Stander.
Subs: N. Scannell for Marshall (49), Kilcoyne, Archer and Healy for Cronin, Ryan and Hanrahan (52), O’Donoghue for Coombes (62), Wycherley for O’Mahony (67), Casey for Murray (74)
Leinster: Keenan, Larmour, Ringrose, Henshaw, O'Brien, Sexton (Capt), McGrath, Healy, Cronin, Porter, Fardy, Ryan, Ruddock, Connors, Doris.
Subs: Molony for Fardy (12), Fardy for Molony (26), Kelleher and E. Byrne for Cronin and Healy (50), R. Byrne for Sexton (52), Gibson-Park for O’Brien (58), Van der Flier for Connors (59), Molony for Fardy (62), Conan for Ruddock (68)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ire).