Larmour’s stunning try stems Munster comeback as Leinster triumph

Leo Cullen’s much-changed side prove too strong for opponents at Thomond Park

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour’s steps  Ian Keatley of Munster on the way to scoring his side’s fourth try during the Guinness Pro 14 game at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour’s steps Ian Keatley of Munster on the way to scoring his side’s fourth try during the Guinness Pro 14 game at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Munster 24 Leinster 34

Leinster underlined their unrivalled strength in depth by storming Munster’s Thomond Park fortress with a much changed team. Vibrant and refreshed, they were altogether sharper in everything they did in the first half when racing into a 27-5 lead. They then stemmed an impassioned Munster comeback thanks to a stunning solo try by Jordan Larmour, possibly the most gifted of their exceptional young stock.

Munster were seeking to go back to the well once more with a largely unchanged side for their festive full house; Alex Wootton and Kevin O’Byrne coming in for the unwell Keith Earls and Rhys Marshall. But by contrast, they looked weary and off the pace, until rousing themselves after the break.

Leinster’s defensive line speed, offloding and opportunism were of a different standard and in addition to Larmour, other likely young lads off their conveyor belt to shine were the all-action duo of James Ryan, who carried superbly, and Dan Leavy, who was exceptional over the ball and impressed with his unflinching physicality and work-rate. There was also another assured outing from Ross Byrne, who ran the show with plomb.

Leinster may have made a dozen changes from the side which beat Exeter last time out, but they really don’t do ‘weakened’ teams. Certainly, with an all-international pack and a Lion in their midfield, as well as their Maori signing from the Chiefs, James Lowe, and serious gas in their back three, there didn’t appear to be too many weak links.

They were faster out of the blocks too. When Wootton fielded the kick-off, neither O’Byrne nor Peter O’Mahony could shift the immovable Leavy off the ball and Byrne opened the scoring. Winning the early aerial duels, Leinster struck even more stealthily, albeit Larmour was in front of the ball when knocking Wootton to the ground before then making ground on the right. After Jamison Gibson-Park went blind to James Tracey and Barry Daly, off the recycle Byrne crosskicked for the unmarked Leavy to gather and score unbothered.

Munster’s Andrew Conway scores one of his two tries in the Guinness Pro 14 match against Leinster at Thomond Park. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Munster’s Andrew Conway scores one of his two tries in the Guinness Pro 14 match against Leinster at Thomond Park. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Byrne converted and tagged on a penalty after Wootton’s sliced kick effectively put his team offside. With a 4-0 penalty count against their team, there were ironic cheers when Nigel Owens spotted Gibson-Park’s forward pass, but Munster awoke when Ian Keatley gathered his own chip and Wootton had a second run up the left, linking with Murray inside.

Munster tapped a penalty into corner, after a nice lineout move to the short side was held up, two phases later Murray went back there to plunge through the tackles of Gibson-Park and Leavy.

Keatley missed the conversion though and Leinster swiftly found space out wide, Larmour putting through a clever kick for the chasing Lowe. He looked sure to score, and would have done but for Conway grappling him from behind before kicking the ball dead. After recourse to video replays, Owens correctly binned Conway and awarded a penalty try.

Leinster also made use of the numerical advantage within another three minutes. Although Larmour couldn’t hold Keatley’s up-and-under, Rory O’Loughlin picked up and stepped Chris Farrell to break clear, linking with Daly, whose offload gave the supporting Henshaw a free run to the line.

Byrne’s conversion made it 27-5 and Thomond Park was largely stunned. Even a rendition of Stand Up and Fight was palpably subdued, and the crowd’s mood wasn’t helped by Keatley kicked an attempted penalty to the corner into touch in goal near the end of the half before Farrell kicked the ball away with the half’s last play.

Leinster’s Jack Conan is tackled by Rory Scannell and Darren Sweetnam of Munster during the Guinness Pro 14 game atb Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Leinster’s Jack Conan is tackled by Rory Scannell and Darren Sweetnam of Munster during the Guinness Pro 14 game atb Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

All changed, changed utterly, upon the resumption. O’Mahony set Munster alight when winning a turnover and Keatley pushed a penalty up the line. A couple of overthrows prevented the home side from establishing a foothold but Niall Scannell hit his man when then introduced, along with Simon Zebo, and also carried strongly into traffic for Keatley to then accelerate through the stretched defence and add the conversion.

Keatley also began to make use of the wind, thumping the ball 60 metres downfield from the restart. With O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Dave Kilcoyne and co generating some momentum into carries and recycling quickly, their policy of hitting their wingers with long passes was rewarded when Rory Scannell floated a beauty to Conway. He still had plenty to do, but stepped inside Larmour and veered outside Daly for a stunning try which Keatley also converted from the touchline to make it 27-19.

Game very much on.

A wild passage of length-of-the-field turnovers added to the drama before Munster repelled a 15-phase Leinster attack only for the visitors to do likewise when Leavy poached for a penalty.

Cue Larmour’s brilliant try, gathering on his 22 and seemingly with nothing on, he beat Conway and Rory Scannell one way and the other, and suddenly he was accelerating clear over the half-way line. At full tilt there was no stopping him, and he stepped Keatley, although Zebo covered the ground brilliantly in making a fine if unsuccessful attempt to prevent Larmour grounding the ball for Leinster’s bonus point and match-clinching try

Byrne’s touchline conversion, via the upright, made it a three-score game. Moderate consolation for Munster came by way of Conway’s second finish by the corner flag after good work by JJ Hanrahan and Zebo for their bonus point. There was the worrying sight of Richardt Strauss receiving lengthy treatment before being helped off due to a back injury.

SCORING SEQUENCE: 2 mins Byrne pen 0-3; 9 mins Leavy try, Byrne con 0-10; 13 mins Byrne pen 0-13; 18 mins Murray try 5-13; 21 mins penalty try 5-20; 23 mins Henshaw try, Byrne con 5-27; (half-time 5-27); 46 mins Keatley try and con 12-27; 49 mins Conway try, Keatley con 19-27; 69 mins Larmour try, Byrne con 19-34; 76 mins Conway try 24-34.

MUNSTER: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wooton; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Niall Scannell for O’Byrne, Simon Zebo for Sweetnam (both 45 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for O’Donnell (61 mins), James Cronin for Kilcoyne, John Ryan for Archer (both 62 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Keatley (71 mins), Darren O’Shea for Holland, Duncan Williams for Murray (both 75 mins).

Sinbinned: Conway (21-31 mins).

LEINSTER: Jordan Larmour; Barry Daly, Rory O’Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Jack McGrath (capt), James Tracy, Michael Bent; Devin Toner, James Ryan; Jordi Murphy, Dan Leavy, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Ed Byrne for McGrath (half-time), Tadhg Furlong for Bent, Mick Kearney for Ryan (both 47 mins), Noel Reid for Daly (55 mins), Richardt Strauss for Tracy, Josh van der Flier for Murphy (both 66 mins), Nick McCarthy for Gibson-Park (75 mins), Cathal Marsh for Byrne (77 mins).

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

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