Leinster 16 Munster 6
LEINSTER continued their decade-long dominance over rivals Munster with a comfortable 10-point victory in the Pro14 Grand Final at the RDS on Saturday evening.
You felt that the team that scored the first try in this arm-wrestle of a final was likely to end up as winners. Leinster, gunning for a fourth successive title, came up with the answer when Jack Conan scored a crucial five-pointer early in the second half.
Munster had withstood serious Leinster pressure in the opening half, and when they went in level at halftime they must have really believed they had a great chance to end their 10-year wait for silverware. However, a high error count from Munster in that second period, coupled with Leinster’s relentless pressure game, ensured that Munster would lose another big game to their big rivals.
Munster failed to deal with Ross Byrne’s kick off at the very start, which allowed Leinster to have territory and possession from the get-go, and from the resultant sequence of play, Peter O’Mahony went off his feet at a ruck, which allowed Byrne the opportunity to slot a simple penalty in the third minute, as Leinster drew first blood.
It was all Leinster in the early exchanges, with Byrne kicking another penalty in the 11th minute, but almost immediately Munster got a chance to get on the board when Leinster’s blindside Rhys Ruddock was penalised, and Joey Carbery made no mistake from 25m to make it 6-3.
Leinster threw one of their patented power plays at Munster just before the half-hour mark, hitting Munster with everything they had, at a relentless tempo, but Munster kept them at bay, mainly thanks to a fantastic defensive effort by Gavin Coombes and CJ Stander to hold up a Leinster drive over the line, while a couple of minutes later a loitering Keith Earls intercepted when Leinster looked likely to score.
Conor Murray was just wide with a penalty attempt from inside his own half, against the strong wind, in the 35th minute, and Carbery had a horrible connection from a much closer effort three minutes later. Thankfully, he quickly had a chance to redeem himself, after Jack Conan was pinned for a high tackle on Murray in midfield, and Carbery duly slotted the last kick of the half to leave the scores tied at 6-6 at the break.
Munster started the first half badly and they did the same in the second, allowing Leinster cheap territory. This time they took advantage, with number eight Jack Conan eventually blasting over the Munster try-line in the 46th minute after a series of relentless drives on the Munster line.
Munster had a let-off when Ross Byrne missed an easy-looking penalty in the 55th minute, which allowed them to stay in touch. However, Johann van Graan’s side really struggled to get their hands on the football, meaning their attacking opportunities were extremely limited.
Munster’s much-heralded half-back pairing of Conor Murray and Joey Carbery really struggled to exert any control on proceedings. Murray in particular had an off day that must surely put his place in the British and Irish Lions squad in jeopardy.
A botched box kick from Murray resulted in another Ross Byrne penalty in the 69th minute.
A 10-point lead with only 10 minutes remaining left Munster with a mini mountain to climb, and try as they may Munster could make no in-roads, and Leinster were deserved champions once more.
Byrne (3 pens, 1 con), Conan (1 try).
Carbery (2 pens).
Keenan, Larmour, O'Loughlin, Henshaw, Kearney, Byrne, McGrath (Capt); Healy, Kelleher, Porter, Toner, Fardy, Ruddock, van der Flier, Conan.
Byrne and Furlong for Healy and Porter (52), Baird and Sexton for Fardy and Byrne (59), Byrne for Sexton (64), Tracy for Kelleher (69), Molony for Ruddock (74), Gibson-Park for McGrath (76).
Haley; Conway, Farrell, de Allende, Earls; Carbery, Murray; Cronin, N. Scannell, Ryan; Kleyn, Beirne; Coombes, O'Mahony (c), Stander.
O’Donoghue for O’Mahony (47), Kilcoyne and Archer for Cronin and Ryan (51), O’Byrne for N. Scannell (52), Holland, Casey and Hanrahan for Kleyn, Murray and Carbery (69), R. Scannell for de Allende (74).
Mike Adamson (Scotland).