Leinster forge hard-earned victory to break fortress Thomond
Cullen’s team inflict Munster’s first Limerick defeat in 22 games across all competitions
Caelan Doris offered a man-of-the-match performance for Leinster via his work on both sides of the ball. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
The jubilant scenes at the final whistle of this Guinness Pro14 interprovincial clash offered an insight into the emotion of the moment, the animation on the faces of the Leinster players underlining a satisfaction in forging a hard-earned victory with little wriggle room for lapses in concentration or application.
Leo Cullen’s team inflicted Munster’s first defeat in 22 matches in all competitions at Thomond Park; the last team to win in Limerick was, coincidentally, Leinster almost two years ago to the day. This was a contest of earthy tones, an interminable battle of wills on the gain-line, with the collisions registering audibly.
While there was precious little time or space afforded to any ball carrier, Leinster monopolised the snippets of creativity, willing to employ the full expanse of the pitch in their search for a chink in the Munster defence. The blue-clad players are obviously encouraged and certainly willing to back their skill-sets under pressure. The dividend was the game’s sole try; arguably the contest’s only lucid moment in terms of artistry.
Munster didn’t put together three consecutive passes once during the 80 minutes. They pummelled away in a direct manner, particularly in the second half when, wind assisted, they were able to pin Leinster back but unlike their opponents never sought to rush the ball to explore the outside channels. It didn’t prevent them from building pressure but indiscipline and errors were as much a bugbear as the visitors’ stoic resistance.
And yet the home side could have won but perhaps the last passage of play summed up the night, Leinster replacement Ross Molony managing to pilfer a Munster throw, five metres from his line, allowing the visitors to wind down the final 60-seconds.
Munster captain Billy Holland explained: “I’m the person making the call. Leinster have a good lineout D, the conditions probably dictated that you rule out half the lineout. As the game went on the wind got stronger and it was almost impossible to throw the ball past the first five metres. So, it makes it extra difficult to win the ball and it just becomes a scrap in the air sometimes.
“It’s a decision by me as to where the ball is thrown and then there is the throw, the lift, the contest in the air, there are so many variables that go into it and that one at the end which is very disappointing but that’s the way it is some of the time.”
That lineout provided Munster with an opportunity to pen an escape clause but it would be wrong for it to overshadow what went before; the home side had some decent chances had they better appreciated where the space was, especially in the Leinster 22. There was an honesty of endeavour but the quality was lacking at times.
Jack O’Donoghue had an excellent game, so too the rest of the back row while Fineen Wycherley was a consistent nuisance at the breakdown and in the tackle area. Jack O’Sullivan made a huge impact from the bench. Mike Haley was Munster’s most polished back while Rory Scannell, twice, and Joey Carbery, upon his introduction, pinned Leinster back with some finely judged diagonal kicks.
Nick McCarthy’s service was excellent. Getting him to box-kick into the strong wind in the first half was a gambit that should have been abandoned early on. It was up to others to take responsibility and provide direction, something that didn’t materialise. Game management was an issue.
Cullen will be happy with the commitment and maturity shown by his young Leinster team. The pack worked like Trojans, Andrew Porter made 20 tackles, the outstanding Will Connors, 23, without missing one while Caelan Doris offered a man-of-the-match performance for his work on both sides of the ball. Scott Fardy led by example, Devin Toner too put in a big shift, so too Josh Murphy, James Tracy and try scorer Ed Byrne.
Ross Byrne’s cool game management was impressive as was his willingness to take the pressure off Rowan Osborne – he was making his first start in his third appearance – by carrying the ball into contact; on one occasion, the outhalf made a superb break. Box-kicking aside, Osborne, the 22-year-old Trinity student can be proud of his performance.
There were glimpses of the footwork that makes Jimmy O’Brien a running threat while James Lowe was centrally involved in his team’s best attacking moments. Leinster also gleaned an impetus from their bench, that energy especially evident in that fraught end-game.
The visitors’ try came on nine minutes, the genesis a driven maul from a lineout, followed by a cleverly worked backline move in which Osborne, Conor O’Brien and Ross Byrne worked Lowe free in the Munster 22 and even though hauled down just short of the line, the winger was on hand several phases later to lend his weight to Ed Byrne’s surge over the line.
Ross Byrne kicked the conversion and landed two penalties before Munster outhalf JJ Hanrahan responded with a brace of penalties either side of the interval. While the game’s scoring was completed by the 45th minute, the tension never evaporated as the outcome remained up for dispute to the final whistle.
Cullen rightly paid tribute in the aftermath to the grit and determination shown by his young side to cling on to the victory and maintain Leinster’s unbeaten record this season in both the Pro14 and Europe.
Scoring sequence – 9 mins: E Byrne try, R Byrne conversion, 0-7; 22: R Byrne penalty, 0-10; 33: R Byrne penalty, 0-13; 39: Hanrahan penalty, 3-13. Half-time: 3-13. 45: Hanrahan penalty, 6-13.
Munster: M Haley; D Goggin, S Arnold, R Scannell, S Daly; JJ Hanrahan, N McCarthy; D Kilcoyne, K O’Byrne, S Archer; F Wycherley, B Holland (capt); T O’Donnell, C Cloete, J O’Donoghue. Replacements: J Loughman for Kilcoyne 51 mins; J O’Sullivan for Cloete 54 mins; K Knox for Archer 54 mins; J Carbery for Hanrahan 56 mins; N Cronin for McCarthy 65 mins; D Barron for O’Byrne 73 mins; D O’Shea for O’Donnell 73 mins; C Nash for Goggin 76 mins.
Leinster: H Keenan; A Byrne, J O’Brien, C O’Brien, J Lowe; R Byrne, R Osborne; E Byrne, J Tracy, A Porter; D Toner, S Fardy (capt); J Murphy, W Connors, C Doris. Replacements: S Cronin for Tracy 51 mins; P Dooley for E Byrne 51 mins; C Frawley for C O’Brien 58 mins; R Molony for Murphy 65 mins; H O’Sullivan for Osborne 65 mins; J Aungier for Porter 73 mins; S Penny for Connors 75 mins; T O’Brien for Ross Byrne 79 mins.
Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU).