Well, that was a tough watch. It’s always going to be difficult to see your team being beaten up at home, but that was brutal. Munster were last night all the clichés that are associated with them. They did have more hunger to win the game, there was more effort from their Players and pride in the Jersey and all that good stuff. Frankly though, the main difference is that they were smarter. When their Players saw a weakness in the Leinster defence, they went after it ruthlessly and when there was an attempted comeback from the home team in the 2nd half that was killed immediately. Very, very intelligent play which led to a thoroughly deserved victory.
It didn’t look that way at the start though. Centre Andrew Smith spilled the ball in the tackle after good pressure from Fanning which led to the first scrum of the game. Loosehead James Cronin was subsequently penalised for dropping the scrum leaving Leinster with an easy opportunity to get points on the board from 35m out. Madigan kicked the penalty with minimum fuss to give the home team the lead. 3-0 Leinster after 3 mins.
Unfortunately the good start was squandered in quick time. Munster had secured quick ball off the lineout which was fed to Blindside Flanker CJ Stander coming onto the ball at speed. The move had been well scouted by the Leinster Back Row as Ryan met Stander with a huge tackle. Having made the hit and disrupted the momentum of the attack, Ryan gave away a needless penalty by attempting to dive over the ruck to tackle Conor Murray. Referee Ian Davies had no option but to award the Penalty. Out Half Ian Keatley made no mistake. 3-3 after 5 mins.
The tit for tat nature of the scoring continued as Leinster won another Scrum Penalty, this time deep in the Munster 22. Munster did have the put in but another huge tackle from Ryan, this time on Number 8 Robin Copeland, caused a bit of panic as the Munster 8 threw a pass to nobody forcing Smith to ground the ball behind the try line and surrender possession. From the resultant scrum, Cronin was penalised again, this time for driving on the angle. Madigan kicked the points to put the home side back into the lead. 6-3 Leinster after 12 mins.
Munster responded superbly with several pick and goes straight through the heart of the Leinster ruck, with Open side Tommy O’Donnell, Cronin and Copeland doing particular damage. The visitors, in what would turn out to be a sign of things to come, marched their way up to the home sides try line but they were held up. Munster were awarded the scrum penalty as this time Bent was penalised for collapsing the scrum. Keatley, from all of 10m, made no mistake. 6-6 after 17 mins.
Munster were in the ascendency now and soon had their first try of the evening. An excellent box kick from Scrum Half Conor Murray was chased down superbly by Winger Andrew Conway which enabled the visitors to gain quick ball. Fullback Felix Jones made significant territory and again it was quick ball that was doing the damage. Keatley made a beautiful pop pass to Centre Dennis Hurley who, when tackled off loaded to 2nd Row Dave Foley. Cronin was fed the ball from the subsequent ruck about 8m out and, despite the best efforts of Ross, Ryan and Ruddock, the Loosehead would not be denied what was a superb team try. Keatley scuffed the conversion but the visitors had a deserved lead. 11-6 Munster after 22 mins.
The lead was extended through Keatley’s boot afterwards. With the home team being turned over in attack after good work from Copeland, Munster earned a scrum just inside the halfway line. This time Ross was penalised for dropping the bind against Cronin. Keatley, from about 50m with the angle, manage to land the kick and, rather easily, Munster had a 2 score lead. 14-6 Munster after 24 mins.
The home team just couldn’t put together a coherent attack and were made to pay for it again. Munster established territory and had a lineout on the Leinster 22 and, completely dishearteningly from a Leinster point of view, found it all too easy to make yards in the tackle. The Leinster defence had no ferocity to it and the likes of Cronin, Foley and 2nd Row Paul O’Connell carried right up to the Leinster line where, eventually, Copeland got the score. Keatley didn’t miss this conversion and Munster were now a long way out in front. 21-6 Munster after 33 mins.
Leinster did manage a response through a Madigan penalty after Stander was penalised for not releasing in the tackle but, rather than getting another score before Half Time to reduce the arrears, Leinster simply imploded. A good carry from McCarthy had actually given the home team some momentum and when the ball was fed out to Gopperth, there was a chance for him to gain some significant ground through Macken on his inside or Madigan on his Outside. He went for Macken, which Keatley had predicted who picked off the pass and ran the interception in underneath the posts. A devastating blow for Leinster before Half Time. 28-9 Munster 39 mins.
Now to their credit, Leinster did start to fight back in the 2nd half and got the first score of the half. With the aid of 2 yellow cards for Varley and Botha for cynical play, Leinster had a lineout in the Munster 22. Thought the maul came to nothing it did at least tie in the Munster defence leaving them down players in the midfield. Gopperth exploited this well by popping the ball to Fanning who raced away to score under the posts. Madigan hurriedly added the conversion. 28-16 Munster after 64 mins.
Munster’s kick chase game effectively closed out the game when they won a penalty to put them more than 2 scores in front. A Murray box kick was fielded successfully by Kearney but he was swallowed up by Hurley and Substitute Winger Van Der Heever. Referee Davies had no choice but to penalise him for not releasing and Keatley kicked the score to take the wind out of the home side’s sails. 31-16 Munster after 65 mins.
Leinster did actually score a penalty try to reduce the arrears yet again. A catch and drive inside the Munster 22 was heading for the try line when Foley pulled the maul down deliberately resulting in, not only the penalty try but, a sin binning for Foley also. Madigan added the extras and, all of a sudden, there was a mere 8 points in it with 10 mins to go. 31-23 Munster after 70 mins.
Matt O’Connor’s men simply couldn’t keep their composure though. A couple of knock on’s and a scrum penalty led to Munster establishing a lineout from which they launched a catch and drive. The maul was set and moving forward and Ruddock felt that he had to stop it and collapsed it. Substitute JJ Hanrahan sent over the penalty to ensure that Munster recorded a deserved win and that Leinster would get nothing. There was still time for one more Munster sin binning, this time Murray was the guilty party but Leinster were unable to conjure up a final score to at least claim a losing bonus point. 34-23 Munster after 76 mins.
The coaching staff and the players, much like us as supporters will be hurting after that. The first half performance was not good enough. Next week’s trip to Zebre has become a must win match, especially with the Champions Cup on the horizon. A lot of work for Matt O’Connor and his coaching team to do.