O’Driscoll burrows over for Leinster win at Thomond
Munster tries from Keatley and Jones not enough for home side, as former Ireland captain delivers another crucial try
Munster 16 Leinster 22: The fear was that Munster wouldn’t be able to go to the well six days after their epic win in at The Stoop, but far from draining them it seemed to infuse them with a new-found self-belief.
So it was that Leinster had to dig, as deeply as they’ve ever done, to resourcefully and resiliently come from behind into a stiff wind.
A typically bruising game where every inch was fought for, all the more so as the rain teemed down at various points in both halves, would have made for useful viewing for Warren Gatland, who was amongst the crowd, and most of the leading Lions candidates had big games.
Munster backed up last week’s win with a big performance, but a hugely significant win in terms of where this team is now travelling eluded them. Playing much more directly, Munster’s mauling and breakdown work - committing two or three men to clinically clear out beyond the ball - was better for much of the first half.
However, Leinster responded well when Munster took the lead and had the momentum early in the second half. Negating Munster’s maul was a huge turning point, they were competitive at the breakdown and they played much more pragmatically and narrower as the conditions worsened, to plunder something of a Munsteresque smash-and-grab win and move back into second place in the Rabo Pro 12 table.
In keeping with the League policy, the official ticket sales amounted to 23,037, but there was comfortable spacing on the terraces and plenty of vacant seats were an unusual backdrop to this fixture, which had prompted five sell-outs here since Thomond Park was redeveloped.
It didn’t take long for the atmosphere to crank up, however. Indeed, Leinster should have been seven points to the good inside four minutes with a turnover try from deep after David Kilcoyne lost the ball when tackled by Ian Madigan. Cian Healy countered and a fingertip transfer by Brian O’Driscoll released Isa Nacewa for a kick ahead and the notion of having a lock, Donncha O’Callaghan, on the wing was exposed as Rob Kearney outsprinted him, gathered and rolled over the line.
Bizarrely, the TMO Jude Quinn, adjudicated that Kearney’s arm was under the ball, but some of the ball simply had to touch the ground. Compensation came by way of a scrum penalty which Ian Madigan landed and the pattern was established - the Munster attack against the Leinster defence.
The latter’s line speed and tackle execution rebuffed a 13 phase attack and Madigan landed a couple more wind-assisted penalties - the first again against Kilcoyne at scrum time, the second when James Coughlan didn’t roll away. But Munster’s running game was far more direct, there were no more examples of locks on the wings, and the intensity of their carrying and the efficiency of their breakdown work began to make Leinster wilt.
After Peter O’Mahony made one muscular steal in contact, Damien Varley had another on Nacewa who had brilliantly retrieved an Ian Keatley kick ahead. Following up, the outhalf lined up Mike Ross on the blind side to score.
They cranked up their intensity further, Isaac Boss ill-advisedly going blind for Seán Cronin to be tackled into touch to give Munster a line-out platform on half-way.
Several phases later, Keatley turned creator in chief, albeit with a strong hint of obstruction by James Downey on O’Driscoll in midfield, to loop around and line with Felix Jones. The fullback showed his pace to work a drifting two on two into a try with a show and go to take Seán O’Brien’s tackle and score.
Madigan did regain the lead with his fourth penalty but the half finished with O’Connell beating Devin Toner to a Cronin throw and with the wind behind them after the break, they looked well set.
Akin to the previous Sunday, their intense start to the second-half yielded a couple of quick fire penalties by Keatley, the first after Kilcoyne extracted revenge at scrum time against Ross, the second from fully 55 metres after Shane Jennings came in from the side. But when Leinster came upfield, O’Connell - much to his apparent frustration, was adjudged to be off his feet and Madigan reduced the lead to a point.
Leinster would continue to work their way up the field patiently and ferociously on several occasions, O’Brien making one huge carry up the guts, but every knock-on, turnover or penalty for holding on meant they had to start from deep again every time.
Eventually, though, they and O’Driscoll would not be denied. Having been rebuffed by Casey Laulala close to the line, after 26 phases, he plunged over close to the posts. Madigan’s close-in conversion, his 20th successful place kick in a row in this competition, made it 22-16.
Back Munster came, inevitably, to throw the kitchen sink at a now obdurate Leinster defence, their late siege ending with Nacewa’s tackle on Mike Sherry and Rob Kearney winning the turnover penalty.
Leinster ran down the clock for O’Driscoll, fittingly, to put the ball dead.
Scoring sequence: 5 mins Madigan pen 0-3; 14 mins Madigan pen 0-6; 20 mins Madigan pen 0-9; 21 mins Keatley try 5-9; 27 mins Jones try 10-9; 34 mins Madigan pen 10-12; (half-time 10-12); 42 mins Keatley pen 13-12; 45 mins Keatley pen 16-12; 49 mins Madigan pen 16-15; 71 mins O’Driscoll try, Madigan con 16-22.
Munster: F Jones; D Hurley, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne , D Varley, S Archer; Donncha O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (capt); P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell , J Coughlan. Replacements: B Holland for O’Callaghan (54 mins), BJ Botha for Archer (62 mins), M Sherry for Varley (63 mins), Dave O’Callaghan for Coughlan (71 mins), J Cronin for Kilcoyne (79 mins). Not used: C Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, I Dineen.
Leinster: R Kearney; D Kearney, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, I Nacewa; I Madigan, I Boss; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), Q Roux, S O’Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip. Replacements: A Goodman for D’Arcy (13 mins), D Toner for Roux (28 mins), R Strauss for Cronin, J McGrath for Healy (both 50 mins), K McLaughlin or O’Brien (33-36 mins and 79 mins), A Conway for D Kearney (62 mins). Not used: M Bent, J Cooney.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU).