Leinster count cost of bragging rights
Leinster 30 Munster 21:Leinster coach Joe Schmidt was again left counting the cost of victory after the injury jinx presently hanging over the province continued to mount as they saw off a game Munster side in the first of their interprovincial bouts.
Brian O’Driscoll, Isa Nacewa and Kevin McLaughlin all left the fray early, while Andrew Conway had to be stretchered off following a collision with Munster’s Simon Zebo in the second half.
“Brian has a sprained ankle and couldn’t continue, so it must be bad,” admitted Schmidt, before pointing out that Nacewa “never leaves the field” after the Fijian was replaced by Fionn Carr in the 52nd minute with what looked like a dead leg.
Kevin McLaughlin was another victim on the evening after hyper-extending an elbow, adding to Leinster’s problems ahead of their opening Heineken Cup clash at home to Exeter nest weekend.
In the game itself, Munster’s passing and game of width was again in evidence but it was Leinster’s handling and running lines that caught the eye as they bagged the points in front of 46,280 fans in Aviva.
Munster stayed with the European Champions until a short phase in the second half, where Leinster scored 12 unanswered points including an O’Driscoll try to lead 30-14.
From that point on Munster were chasing a match that was never within reach with Leinster earning the early season bragging rights and the league points.
Richardt Strauss opened the Leinster scoring when he came tearing in from the back of a ruck and the ball was fed to him at pace. Although the Munster defence gobbled him up, the South African rolled over and at full stretch placed the ball on the line.
Referee Leighton Hodges went to the TMO but Strauss had clearly put down legitimately for Jonathan Sexton to convert in front of the posts for 7-0 after only four minutes.
That put an end to Leinster’s inability to score a try against their great rivals for the last three games. But it didn’t dissuade Munster in the least and they responded instantly with Mike Sherry bring the ball on almost straight from the restart.
He off-loaded to flier Zebo and although the Munster winger was taken down yards from the line No 8 Peter O’Mahony was in support for the pop up pass and Munster’s first try and 7-5.
The scoring kept heaping up at pace and over the next seven minutes, two penalties from Ronan O’Gara and two from Sexton had Munster noses in front by 10-11, Sexton’s second effort from wide left hitting the post and bouncing out.
The match was a boiler and Leinster particularly sent waves of attacks into Munster territory. It was Strauss again that made a phenomenal burst through the middle and again from the yardage gain and Munster defenders sucked in, space on the right opened up, this time fullback Ian Madigan in support to nip in for the second home try which Sexton converted for 17-11.
Both teams were playing expansive games, which made the early phases easy on the eye but the players must have been suffering and a few were going down on their knees when play halted for injury.
Sexton added another penalty for 20-11, his fourth successful kick from six attempts, for a more comfortable home lead heading towards half-time.
Still Munster were not sitting back with O’Gara replying on 36 minutes after Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip was given a talking to by referee Hodges for infringements on the deck. The half closed with Leinster 20-14 ahead.
The opening 12 minutes of the second half proved to be the critical phase for Leinster as O’Gara hit the posts with his penalty after Leinster were judged offside.
Sexton then landed from 38 metres to put nine points between the teams. Two minutes later O’Driscoll was in scoring in the Munster corner. Again Leinster spread the defence by running right and then left, the final pass to O’Driscoll out wide still needing some of the maestro’s old nous to touch down at the corner flag and keep his feet in play. Sexton converted nicely for 30-14 and from there Munster were never going to come back.
As the sides emptied their benches Conway, who has had his share of injuries, was stretchered off the pitch.
Munster sniped a try on 67 minutes, Conor Murray nipping around the blind side of a ruck and touching down completely unnoticed by the Leinster defence.
Ian Keatley, who had replaced O’Gara, converted from the sideline for 30-21 but Munster continued to press and would have had a try six minutes from time had the ball not squirted forwards from a ruck.
Their late change of emphasis to a more direct running game with the forwards involved seemed to trouble Leinster more but as the clocked ticked Munster efforts seemed more in hope and the gap too wide. It was too little to late with Munster leaving with nothing, not even a losing bonus point.
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 9 mins; F Carr for Nacewa 52 mins; S Cronin for Strauss 57 mins; N Reid for O’Driscoll 63 mins; J Hagan for Ross 65 mins; J Cooney for Conway 65 mins; T Denton for Browne 72 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, D O’Callaghan, S Dougal, P O’Mahony.
Replacements:B Holland for Donncha O’Callaghan 48 mins; D Varley for Sherry 50 mins; M Sherry for Dougal 55 mins; W Du Preez for Kilcoyne 57 mins; I Keatly for O’Gara 61 mins; Dougal for Sherry 63 mins; J Downey for Zebo 65 mins; P Butler for Dave O’Callaghan 70 mins.
Referee:L Hodges (WRU).