Inspirational Lowe helps give Leinster the edge
Van Graan’s irritation understandable as a number of big calls went against Munster
Munster’s Chris Cloete, Peter O’Mahony and Darren Sweetnam in action against Leinster duo Fergus McFadden and Sean O’Brien during the Pro14 clash at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Time was when the sight of so much blue outnumbering red in this rivalry would have been unimaginable.
But as much as Leinster and their supporters are developing a distinct liking for the Aviva, Munster and the Red Army must be close to sick of the place.
For Leinster, this was a 10th successive win at the Aviva and an eighth in nine games here against their main foes whereas, for Munster, this was a sixth successive defeat at the venue and a 10th in their last 11 visits here.
Yet although Munster’s need for the win was arguably the greater, they shouldn’t be too despondent about their performance in what was a typically full-on and fine derby, full of quality performances and attacking ambition – not least from the men in red – and with three tries apiece.
Pernickety officialsThe quality of the game was largely in spite of, rather than because of, the pernickety Welsh officials. Although the final penalty count was 10 apiece, this included one batch of four in succession for the visitors which eventually culminated in Alby Mathewson scoring from intense scrum pressure.
Johann van Graan clearly felt this should have led to a yellow card for Andrew Porter after three consecutive scrum penalties, the second and third of which were against the young tight-head.
Whatever about that, Van Graan’s irritation was understandable, for most of the marginal calls went against Munster, including two which each had a profound impact on the scoreboard.
That being said, rarely has a left winger had so profound an effect on a game as James Lowe. It wasn’t just his two tries, which takes his tally to four in four games this season and 14 in 17 appearances for Leinster.
Or even that he was the central figure in the penalty try that might otherwise have been the first of a hat-trick. His influence was immense from the off.
Break and offloadAlready having made one break and offload, it was Lowe who capitalised upon Keith Earls and Andrew Conway competing against each other for a box kick by Jamison Gibson-Park, who also atoned for one early fumble with several significant contributions, including what amounted to three try-scoring assists.
Peter O’Mahony had a point when suggesting to Ben Whitehouse that Lowe was already falling over when reaching out one-handed for the ball, and in truth it was a tight call either way.
However, by the letter of the law Whitehouse and Television Match Oofficial Jon Mason were entitled to yellow card Earls and award a penalty try, even if it was by no means clear Lowe would have scored.
Legitimate tackle In the absence of Earls, Lowe then scored the first of two muscular, one-handed touchdowns by the left corner flag from long skip passes by Gibson-Park.
The second, though an even more adroit finish, followed an utterly ludicrous penalty two minutes into the second period against Sammy Arnold for a deliberate knock-on when making an entirely legitimate tackle on Robbie Henshaw, from which the ball ricocheted off Arnold’s head into the hands of Earls.
He scampered clear from 80 metres out but his ‘try’ was overruled and to the utter bemusement of Peter O’Mahony, Stander and Arnold, the latter was penalised. This was entirely the call of assistant referee Mike English, and without recourse to the TMO.
English refereed the Ulster Bank League opener between Clontarf and Lansdowne on Friday night at Castle Avenue. There were 38 penalties, with two yellow cards to the home team and four to the away side even though there was ne’er a bad word nor a punch thrown between them.
TrimmedLeinster had turned around with a 20-12 lead, but instead of this being trimmed to 20-19 by Earls’ “try”, Lowe’s ensuing try when Gibson-Park went back to the blindside off another lineout drive in the left corner, and Ross Byrne’s second touchline conversion pushed the home side 27-12 ahead.
As when responding to the early 14-0 deficit, Munster made it a one-score game again through Mathewson’s try. They were also over the line another three times.
But although Carbery smooth’s distribution and footwork were cleverly utilised, often beyond the first receiver, significantly Ross Byrne landed five out of five as against Carbery’s three from four.
But both were striking the ball well and both will have benefitted from the experience.