Johnny Sexton guides Leinster over the line

Leinster hold on at the last to claim narrow win over rivals Munster in Pro12

Leinster 16 Munster 13

Johnny Holland is the same age Johnny Sexton was when the undisputed Ireland number 10 began to move through the ranks. In this very fixture back in 2009, you may recall, Sexton appeared from the shadows, replacing the injured Felipe Comtepomi to produce a stunning impact at Croke Park that resonates to this very day.

At least Holland now has up close and personal knowledge of the level required to dominate at pivot. He had a fine view of the game deciding kicks at goal from his seat in the west stand.

Following a fine try, some decent place-kicking, a restart out on the full and a unforced fumble, the 24 year old had made way for Ian Keatley.

The contest was evenly poised at 13-all with 23 minutes to play.

Munster coach Anthony Foley made the call. Within seconds it was proved to be the wrong decision as Keatley's latest pressure penalty sailed well wide of its intended destination.

Upon such moments are rugby matches decided as Munster and Foley and Keatley have learned to their cost too many times this season.

The Munster brain trust are seeking a director of rugby to alleviate the pressure on Foley next season, to allow him be the “tracksuit coach” as Niall O’Donovan told The Daily Mail. Yet, in the same article, O’Donovan stated the new man would be “track-suited as well.”

He also stated Andy Farrell – a track-suited coach by trade - “never got track-suited” during his recent period helping out the province.

Confused? You can only wonder.

Anyway, Keatley could not take his opportunity while Sexton gobbled up every single point on offer like he was still that ravenous kid fed up waiting behind the Argentinean.

That was the difference. Surprisingly, that’s all it was. Every team, and most coaching careers, live and die on the place-kicker, or in this case the sub place-kicker, delivering.

Holland settled nicely into the game with a penalty after 13 minutes but it really should have been a Simon Zebo try. Munster forwards were piling on the pressure when the fullback ran a tight line only to drop Conor Murray's bullet pass. Turns out Sexton got a nudge on the ball.

Back to his impervious best, Sexton owned this game before half-time.

As is the norm now, he got his blood boiling in a scuffle on the ground with flanker Dave O’Callaghan. There followed 10 points, all his own making, but really Leinster should have been more than four points clear at the turn.

When their dominant maul chugged into Munster's 22 the expected seven points didn't follow because of Sean Cronin's poor throwing. The Limerick born hooker is so damaging carrying ball but his lack of reliably accurate flinging is probably why Ireland coach Joe Schmidt consistently goes back to Richardt Strauss to understudy for Rory Best.

Sexton did square matters on 26 minutes with a penalty after carrying into Stephen Archer and Donnacha Ryan. Neither man rolled away.

Welsh referee Ian Davies finally lost patience with unmoveable Munster bodies by sin-binning Robin Copeland – in for a bloodied Donnacha Ryan – for the latest desperate infraction. Leinster went back to the maul and after Cronin then Jack McGrath were held short, Sexton demanded the ball. So preoccupied with fending off Francis Saili the outhalf ran into the post, giving his shoulder an awful belt, yet still managed to ground the ball. He got up and converted his try.

Davies, with little productive input from his touch judges, had a poor opening 40 minutes. That included missing Zebo blatantly slapping Ben Te'o's deft grubber out of play close to the Munster try line. Should have been a penalty and possibly even a yellow card. Davies blew for half-time but had to face the verbal wrath of Eoin Reddan and Sexton as he walked off.

Anyway, trailing 10-6, Munster threw everything at the blue defence.

Cronin and Zane Kirchner were unable to stop Johnny Holland's low drive to the line. He even planted a difficult conversion to put Munster three points clear.

Leinster struck back immediately with Saili penalised for needlessly kicking the ball in a ruck. Sexton, on Isa Nacewa’s firm orders, kicked the penalty.

And he planted another one on 63 minutes. That sort of game. That sort of accuracy and temperament required to win it. Sexton’s game. As it has been around these parts since 2009.

There was plenty more goings on in this derby. Cian Healy, in for Jack McGrath, left Leinster defending at the finish with 14 men after his no arms tackle on Dave Kilcoyne.

Keatley went down the line instead of attempting a monster penalty to tie it up. The Munster maul was charged with saving their ailing campaign. Somehow Jamie Heaslip stopped CJ Stander powering over in the 79th minute.

Munster scrum. McGrath came on for Zane Kirchner to pack down. A try seemed certain. Munster had the numbers but lacked the required accuracy. They pounded and pounded away. Munster penalty. Dave Kilcoyne took a quick tap. He was milled by the brilliant Rhys Ruddock and Te’o. Leinster scrum. Leinster’s day.

Leo Cullen’s men climb over Connacht to top of the Pro 12 while Munster’s season, despite the bonus point easing them above Edinburgh and into sixth, is now tittering on the brink of serious failure.

Scoring sequence – 13 mins: J Holland pen, 0-3; 27 mins: J Sexton pen, 3-3; 31 mins: J Holland pen, 3-6; 36 mins: J Sexton try, 8-6; J Sexton con, 10-6. Half-time. 47 mins: J Holland try, 10-11; J Holland con, 10-13; 50 mins: J Sexton pen, 13-13; 63 mins: J Sexton pen, 16-13.

Leinster: Z Kirchner; I Nacewa (capt), G Ringrose, B Te'o, D Kearney; J Sexton, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong; D Toner, H Triggs; R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Heaslip. Replacements: R Strauss for S Cronin, J van der Flier for J Murphy (both 50 mins), M Ross for T Furlong, R Moloney for H Triggs (both 63 mins), C Healy for J McGrtah, L Mcgrath for E Reddan, F McFadden for D Kearney (all 68 mins), I Madigan or J Sexton (76 mins), J McGrath for Z Kirchner (78 mins).

Munster: S Zebo; A Conway, F Saili, R Scannell, K Earls; J Holland, C Murray; J Cronin, N Scannell, S Archer; D Ryan, B Holland; D O'Callaghan, T O'Donnell, CJ Stander (capt). Replacements: R Copeland for D Ryan (27 mins), M Sherry for N Scannell, D Kilcoyne for J Cronin (both 47 mins), I Keatley for J Holland (57 mins), J O'Donoghue for D O'Callaghan (64 mins), J Ryan for S Archer (73 mins), D Sweetnam for A Conway (75 mins).

Referee: I Davies (WRU).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent