CORK out-half Jack Crowley came up with the biggest moment of his fledging career as he slotted a last-ditch drop goal to secure a famous victory over Leinster in a thriller of a URC semi-final at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening.
Discounting the Rainbow Cup win at the RDS in 2021 Munster had not registered a league triumph over Leinster in Dublin since October 2014. It had been a long wait for long-suffering Munster fans.
Leinster opened the scoring in the second minute through a Harry Byrne penalty but Munster dominated the next ten minutes and were rewarded when Ben Healy landed a booming penalty from 45m in the 11th minute, to level matters.
Leinster thought they had scored the opening try in the 19th minute when Ryan Baird ran onto a loose ball around midfield and showed his searing pace to get around Mike Haley to dot down, but Munster were left off the hook when winger Tommy O’Brien was adjudged to have just about touched the ball forward just prior to Baird gathering it.
The Munster front row won a penalty from the ensuing scrum, allowing them to engineer a penalty opportunity on the Leinster 22 in the 23rd minute which Healy slotted with ease.
Munster had a number of opportunities close to the Leinster line, but they were not accurate enough in the red zone, with a number of rips from the Leinster pack preventing Munster from capitalising on their territorial and possession supremacy.
Munster had turned down kicks at goal to go down the line and felt that they really should have had a healthy lead. So it was a complete sucker punch when former Munster man Jason Jenkins burst onto a Robbie Henshaw offload to score in the 39th-minute, to give Leinster a 10-6 advantage.
Given the way the first half ended Munster needed a positive start to the second half, and they got it within a couple of minutes when Tadhg Beirne was carried over the Leinster try line by half his pack to score a crucial try.
Soon after Beirne won a ball on the deck just short of his own line, with Leinster looking to hit right back, but the Leinster defence showed huge resilience in the minutes after as Munster pounded their line, but Graham Rowntree’s couldn’t cross.
On the hour mark, Tommy O’Brien looked like scoring a try out of nothing only for Haley to somehow get back to force a knock-on in the act of grounding, but the reprieve was not a long one as two minutes later Joe McCarthy burrowed over from close range, to restore Leinster’s lead. Crucially Ciaran Frawley missed the conversion and Leinster only led by two.
The final few minutes were cagey stuff, and it looked like Leinster were expertly running down the clock, but somehow Munster marched their hosts down the pitch, with John Hodnett, in particular, making some huge carries.
And when they got possession inside the Leinster 22 the young Munster half-backs showed superb composure, as Craig Casey fed Jack Crowley in the pocket, and the Cork Con expertly slotted the drop goal from 30m to win it at the death for Munster.
H Byrne (1 pen, 1 con), J Jenkins, J McCarthy (1 try each).
B Healy (2 pens), J Crowley (1 con, 1 drop), T Beirne (1 try).
J O'Brien; T O'Brien, R Henshaw, C Ngatai, D Kearney; H Byrne, L McGrath (capt); M Milne, R Kelleher, M Ala'alatoa; R Baird, J Jenkins; M Deegan, W Connors, J Conan.
J van der Flier for W Connors (2), C Healy and C Frawley for M Milne and J O’Brien (47), J McCarthy for J Jenkins (60), J McKee for R Kelleher (65), N McCarthy for L McGrath (68), T Clarkson for M Ala'alatoa (70), L Turner for C Ngatai (78).
M Haley; K Earls, A Frisch, J Crowley, S Daly; B Healy, C Casey; J Loughman, D Barron, S Archer; J Kleyn, T Beirne; P O'Mahony (capt), J Hodnett, G Coombes.
R Scannell for B Healy (32), F Wycherley for J Kleyn (45), J Wycherley, N Scannell, R Salanoa and J O’Donoghue for J Loughman, D Barron, S Archer and P O’Mahony (51), A Kendellen for T Beirne (70).
Frank Murphy (IRFU).