Leinster have that bit more in hand
Leinster 30 Munster 21:THIS WAS a fairly accurate barometer of where both sides are in their evolution. Munster were full of vim and positive running; it was just that Leinster, even ravaged by injuries, are a better oiled machine at this stage, both in personnel and playing style.
In the shorter-term, with next weekend’s return to European action in mind, it was also a timely improvement in intensity and performance, especially for Leinster. For the first 55 minutes or so, before their resources were stretched further, they built a deserved 30-14 lead and for 10 minutes against 14 men were hammering on the door for an offensive bonus point before, in the end, that consolation just eluded Munster’s strong finish.
Ambition abounded as both sides sought to utilise the full width of the pitch and keep the ball in hand, Munster bookending the match with a flourish as they eagerly ran hard and wide.
However, the pace at which Leinster played and the greater variety of their attacking game asked far more questions of the Munster defence. There was also likely to be more of a rhythm to the Leinster beat with Eoin Reddan and Jonathan Sexton back in harness for only their second outing of the season together and so it proved.
Nowhere was all of this more evident than in the 15-phase attack which culminated in their second try by Ian Madigan, as Reddan varied the point of attack by twice moving the ball down a narrow blindside corridor to widen the pitch before the fullback scored off his skip pass.
Reddan’s influence was even more pronounced in the more rapid-fire third try by Brian O’Driscoll. After Fergus McFadden’s show-and-go through Ronan O’Gara up the middle, Reddan hit the recycle and moved the ball on to Jamie Heaslip in an instant.
As good, off the slower ball which followed, was the way he skip passed to Richardt Strauss, before good hands by Sexton and McFadden enabled Brian O’Driscoll to score in trademark fashion by the left corner flag.
In the continuing evidence of O’Driscoll’s remarkable abilities and the strong performances of other leading lights aside from Reddan and Sexton, there was encouragement for both provincial and international coaching staffs.
Munster had set the tone by going right, left, right and left again from the kick-off. Ironically, it was when they went up the middle that Shane Jennings engineered a trademark steal which led to the fingertip, third-phase try by Strauss which opened the scoring and kick-started possibly the hooker’s best performance since his all-action efforts from the season before last.
All that said and done, the athleticism, hard-running and good hands of Mike Sherry also caught the eye. The surprise selection of Madigan at fullback was largely vindicated by the threat he posed whenever he ran with the ball, the way he hit the line and his passing skills; his right to left pass for O’Driscoll’s try was a peach.
That said, Madigan won’t have endeared himself to the Leinster coaching staff with the ill-advised counter and wild offload which contributed to Munster’s swift response to the Strauss try, courtesy of good hands by Casey Laulala, Sherry and Simon Zebo and support play by the hard-working Peter O’Mahony.
From there first O’Gara and Sexton exchanged three penalties before Madigan stepped inside Laulala and took O’Gara’s tackle to score his try.
Alas, not for the first time in this fixture, collapsed scrums and repeated resets interrupted the game’s flow. A relaid pitch which easily cut up didn’t help, nor did referee Leighton Hodges at times and, of course, those cursed injuries for Leinster.
There was encouragement in the way Munster bounced back in the last quarter, when Ian Keatley continued his highly impressive start to the season, their previously creaking scrum rallied.
The industrious Conor Murray pounced late for a blindside try. That they subsequently went to the corner rather than take the kick for a bonus point meant they had no tangible reward, but they won’t fret unduly about that.
LEINSTER: I Madigan; A Conway, B O’Driscoll, F McFadden, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, M Ross; D Browne, D Toner; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip (capt). Replacements: J Murphy for McLaughlin (13 mins), F Carr for Nacewa (52 mins), S Cronin for Strauss (58 mins), N Reid for O’Driscoll (65 mins), J Hagan for Ross, J Cooney for Conway (both 66 mins), T Denton for Browne (73 mins).
MUNSTER: D Hurley; D Howlett (capt), K Earls, C Laulala, S Zebo; R O’Gara, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan, D Ryan; Dave O’Callaghan, S Dougall, P O’Mahony. Replacements: B Holland for Donncha O’Callaghan (49 mins), D Varley for Sherry (50 mins), W du Preez for Kilcoyne (57 mins), I Keatley for O’Gara (60 mins), J Downey for Zebo (65 mins), P Butler for Dave O’Callaghan (70 mins). Sinbinned: Varley (53-63 mins).
Referee: Leighton Hodges (WRU).