Garry Ringrose and Leinster a step or two ahead of Munster
Munster suffer fifth straight defeat in derby clash at Thomond Park
Leinster centre Garry Ringrose makes the break for Isa Nacewa’s early try in the Guinness Pro12 game at Thomond park. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
We will get to the enduring brilliance of Seánie O’Brien but this story must begin at the weaving feet of Garry Ringrose.
Andrew Conway might have seen a flicker of what for a brief time seemed like his destiny as Ringrose glided inside him, with the former Leinster man straining to lay a finger on the anointed one.
This Isa Nacewa try in the fourth minute was a stunning sight to behold. The latest Blackrock boy to follow the greatest Blackrock centre of them all in that Leinster 13 jersey. In an instant, last week’s news of Ben Te’o’s imminent departure no longer seemed to matter.
Munster had started like they always do; going directly for the aorta, seeking to slice the visitors open before they could settle.
But Jamie Heaslip’s astonishingly durable career continued when he enveloped Tomás O’Leary – starting because of Conor Murray’s worrying hip injury. And with that, Ian Madigan attacked from deep.
The ball was spread quickly to O’Brien in the outside centre channel, with Ringrose running as if a fullback. The 20-year-old looked up to see 50 metres of grass and two heavyset red jerseys. It was over before it began. Dave Foley quickly disappeared from view, while Jack O’Donoghue was stepped in a way that made the athletic young flanker look a poor defender.
It left Conway in no man’s land. Ringrose probably could have ran it in himself but like all the naturals he took the sensible option to put his captain under the posts.
It’s far too early for comparisons with O’Driscoll but we haven’t seen the like since he retired two seasons ago. Even in traffic Ringrose made a yard more than any Leinster back (proof coming in the half-time stat of 66 metres from five carries). Madigan’s unerring boot had Leinster 10-0 to the good by the quarter hour.
Ian Keatley was dropped for this derby night at a reportedly full Thomond Park (they told us 25,600 but we could see plenty of empty seats in the far stand). In his place came the finally fit Kiwi project player Tyler Bleyendaal. His continued leg problem left Munster’s kicking responsibilities with Rory Scannell, who missed a simple penalty on seven minutes.
Until O’Brien began to dominate, Heaslip lorded it at the breakdown with a brilliant steal reversing strong Munster field position on 26 minutes. It was turnover central. Francis Saili and CJ Stander were next to convince referee David Wilkinson they had done enough over the prone O’Brien.
There is room for both number eights on show in Ireland’s backrow next year and beyond.
This was also when the contest burst to life. Carries by Dave Foley and Stander allowed Mike Sherry to rumble low for the line. Just not as low as O’Brien. No try.
An actual low point followed as the stretcher was needed for Keith Earls. After Luke Fitzgerald hauled him down and he offloaded to Saili, he made contact with a stray shin. The neck injury forced a short stay at Limerick Regional hospital. Soon after Robin Copeland’s bullish one-metre carry finally got Munster on the board. Scannell made it 10-7 at the turn.
Munster roared into the second half with Stander refusing two shots at goal in quick succession. It backfired when Bleyendaal was bear-hugged by Devin Toner long enough for O’Brien to force the turnover three metres from his own line.
“We just wanted to keep the tempo up,” Stander explained. “I made the call before Rory could.”
The value of Leinster’s openside, so badly missed against Toulon, was in clear view all game. But only if you had use of the replay. O’Brien’s next textbook steal came off what initially seemed a clever crossfield punt by Bleyendaal to Conway.
That lifted a relentless 14-minute siege. It also saw Nacewa spring into superman mode. A brilliant catch from Madigan’s curling kick eventually led to Jack McGrath powering over. This was nothing like the bruising, muscular Munster defence of old.
“That’s just physicality,” Stander admitted. “Leicester scored a try like that as well here. Other teams are going to look at that. It’s physicality. We need to get that out of the team now.”
Leo Cullen could do no wrong on this night. Unleashing a brand new frontrow, a scrum penalty followed as Leinster marched back into the Munster 22. Wilkinson set them free when deeming that Marty Moore dropped the elbow on a back-pedalling Kilcoyne.
The entire Leinster bench impressed with Josh van der Flier and Ross Molony continuing their steady progress.
The next Munster attack was undone by its own bravery. Saili, the All Black centre constantly seeking to inspire, carried into the never-ending Heaslip, who was quickly joined by McFadden and Cian Healy. Scrum Leinster.
Healy didn’t last 20 minutes before a fresh knee injury. It ended with Saili flinging an intercept to Zane Kirchner who raced the 70 metres to the posts.
That’s three defeats at Thomond Park now. It gets worse. Munster now must journey to Belfast and Paris.
Leinster might just be set free.
Scoring sequence – 3 mins: Nacewa try, 5-0; Madigan con, 7-0; 14 mins: Madigan pen, 10-0; 37 mins: Copeland try, 10-5; R Scannell con, 10-7. Half-time. 54 mins: J McGrath try, 15-7; Madigan con, 17-7; 80 mins: Kirchner try, 22-7; I Madigan con, 24-7.
MUNSTER: A Conway; K Earls, F Saili, R Scannell, S Zebo; T Bleyendaal, T O’Leary; J Cronin, M Sherry, J Ryan; D Foley, D Ryan; R Copeland, J O’Donoghue, CJ Stander (capt).
Replacements: D Kilcoyne for J Cronin (19 mins, inj), LG Amorosino for K Earls (35 mins, inj), T O’Donnell for J O’Donoghue, D Williams for T O’Leary, D Hurley for T Bleyendaal (all 58 mins), B Holland for D Foley (61 mins), N Scannell for M Sherry (64 mins), M Sagario for J Ryan (71 mins).
LEINSTER: Z Kirchner; F McFadden, G Ringrose, L Fitzgerald, I Nacewa (capt); I Madigan, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong; D Toner, T Denton; D Ryan, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
Replacements: C Healy for J McGrath, J Tracy for S Cronin, M Moore for T Furlong (all 55 mins), R Molony for T Denton (59 mins), J van der Flier for S O’Brien (70 mins), J McGrath for C Healy (74 mins).
Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU).