Leinster 3 Munster 27
THERE was to no Groundhog Day for Munster at the RDS, as they easily scalped Leinster for the first time in seven attempts to get their Rainbow Cup campaign off to a brilliant winning start.
The home side might have had one eye on a meeting with Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle in next weekend's Champions Cup semi-final, but this was a game the Reds, with a stronger line-up than Leinster, simply had to win. That they did so by 24 points made it impressive.
Munster had lost 10 of the last 11 against their greatest rivals, so while this will not go down in the annals of Munster history it cannot be over-exaggerated as to how important this was for Johann van Graan’s side.
Munster scored a brilliant try in the fifth minute with Conor Murray scoring under the posts, but the move had been instigated by a superb steal by Peter O’Mahony as he robbed Leinster’s scrum-half Hugh O’Sullivan at the base of a ruck.
From the resultant phase out-half Joey Carbery freed Damian de Allende and the World Cup-winning centre sliced right through the centre of the Leinster defence, turning Leinster full-back Jordan Larmour inside out, and he was able to put away the supporting Murray for a superb score.
Leinster lost their out-half Harry Byrne in the build-up to that try, although his replacement David Hawkshaw slotted a ninth-minute penalty to settle his nerves.
Munster looked like they were about to score a second try until tighthead Stephen Archer was penalised for being over-eager with his boots on a prone James Ryan at ruck time in the 34th minute, and he was given a yellow card as a result.
Munster did steal the resulting lineout, however, and won a penalty in midfield which Carbery slotted to give Munster a deserved 3-10 lead.
Right on half time Munster’s openside Jack O’Donoghue was penalised for failing to wrap when clearing out Leinster prop Ed Byrne at a ruck, but Hawkshaw badly hooked his penalty effort to leave Munster seven ahead at the break.
Munster had completely dominated the half but had not made that dominance pay on the scoreboard, with poor discipline allowing their hosts a number of cheap exits when they appeared to be under significant pressure, as Munster conceded eight penalties to Leinster’s four in that first period.
Leinster threatened the Munster line in the 47th minute only for O’Donoghue to win a fantastic turnover over the ball to allow Munster to clear their lines.
The first score in the second half was always going to be an extremely important one, given Munster’s brittle confidence levels coming into the tie, and Johann van Graan’s side were glad it was them that got it, after Carbery notched another penalty after an indiscretion by Leinster’s Ryan Baird.
Munster continued to be the better side but inaccuracy at the lineout and in general play let them down, until the arrival of Gavin Coombes off the bench changed all that, as his brilliant offload to Chris Farrell had the Leinster defence back pedalling, and Conor Murray was able to snipe from close range for his second try of the night in the 62nd minute.
In the 65th minute it was Tadgh Beirne’s turn to win an excellent turnover deep inside his 22, with Leinster pushing the power play button. And the big wins at the breakdown kept coming, with Chris Farrell forcing another penalty concession by replacement Leinster lock Scott Fardy in the 68th minute, as Leinster really struggled to go through the phases.
The Munster maul then finished the game off as it completely destroyed the pack in the 72nd minute, only for replacement Leinster scrum half Cormac Foley to kill the maul on his own line, with referee Chris Busby awarding Munster a penalty try, while showing the debutant Foley a yellow card.
Hawkshaw (1 pen).
Carbery (2 pens, 2 cons), Murray (2 tries), Penalty try.
Larmour; Kearney, Ringrose (c), O’Loughlin, Lowe; H. Byrne, O’Sullivan; E. Byrne, Sheehan, Porter; Molony, Ryan; Baird, Penny, Murphy.
Hawkshaw for H. Byrne (5), Cronin, Dooley and Bent for Sheehan, E. Byrne and Porter (57), O’Brien for Ringrose (58), Fardy for Ryan (60), Foley for O’Sullivan (66), Moloney for Baird (72).
Haley; Earls, Farrell, de Allende, Daly; Carbery, Murray; Kilcoyne, Scannell, Archer; Kleyn, Beirne; O’Mahony (c), O’Donoghue, Stander.
Knox for O’Donoghue (40), O’Donoghue for Knox (44), Wycherley and Coombes for Kleyn and O’Donoghue (55), Loughman for Kilcoyne (58), Casey and Nash for Murray and Earls (62), Knox for Archer (66), Healy for Carbery (67), Barron for Scannell (72).
Chris Busby (IRFU).