Leinster serve up fitting RDS farewell for Nacewa and Murphy
Leo Cullen’s side profit from superior skillset and accuracy of their passing
Leinster’s James Lowe offloads to Jack Conan to set up the province’s ir first try against Munster at the RDS, Dublin, on Saturday. Photograph: motgan treacy/inpho
Leinster 16 Munster 15
There have been higher quality instalments of a rivalry like no other in the global game, but few more pulsating as this from first minute to 81st. Errors, poor execution, wayward kicks abounded but this was liberally mixed with moments of brilliance and all amid an almost savage and unrelenting physical commitment and intensity.
The wonder was that the contest didn’t have a higher casualty toll, although Jack O’Donoghue, JJ Hanrahan and Isa Nacewa didn’t make it beyond half-time. Leinster looked set to carve Munster apart in the first quarter, and led all the way from the eighth minute.
On balance, digging deep after their post-European Cup celebrations, they just about deserved a third win over their old foes this season, if only for their superior skillset and accuracy of their passing, whereas Munster forced too many long skip passes, especially with the breeze in the first-half.
However, they again proved they are never beaten until the fat lady sings and had they pulled off another of their Houdini-like acts of escapology it would have been hard to deny they deserved it too.
There were huge performances everywhere, notably James Lowe with his amalgam of brute strength, pace and deft offloading, as well as Jack Conan, James Ryan (naturally) and Jordi Murphy for Leinster; along with Rhys Marshall, Jean Kleyn and Conor Murray for Munster, whose outside three of Keith Earls, Simon Zebo (how we’ll miss him) and Andrew Conway were simply electric.
In a wonderful advert for provincial rugby and the Guinness Pro14, and indeed summer rugby, the Leinster fans making up about two-thirds of a febrile full house wildly celebrated a fitting RDS farewell for Nacewa and Jordi Murphy.
For the Munster Dublin-based expats and travelling fans, this was a sixth successive loss in the capital since beating Leinster in the Aviva Stadium in October 2014.
Along the way there were innumerable big moments. Leinster having opened the scoring through Lowe’s break from Jack McGrath’s inside pass and offload to the supporting Conan, they outflanked Munster’s defence a second time and only Sam Arnold’s covering tackle on the New Zealand winger prevented Leinster going 15-3 or 17-3 ahead.
Munster worked their way back into the game and CJ Stander having been held up on the line by the brick wall otherwise known as James Ryan, instead of a five-metre scrum for the visitors, Leinster had a relieving penalty when Jean Kleyn was sin-binned for a reckless clear-out on Ross Byrne.
However, thanks to a Robin Copeland turnover and Rhys Marshall carry, from Murray’s long pass, Zebo drew in in Joey Carbery and popped a basketball pass to Earls for a very smart finish. And it could have been a 7-0 return in Kleyn’s absence, but Ian Keatley’s missed conversion from the touchline was compounded by him being in front of Murray for the latter’s box kick from the restart. So their hard work was only worth two points.
Even so, in the 69th minute, they had earned themselves a penalty 35 metres out when Cian Healy came through on Murray. Keatley seemed set to kick at goal, but after a discussion also involving Peter O’Mahony, Murray and Earls, they changed their minds and went to the corner.
It’s easy in the cheap seats, but had they made it a two-point game, they’d only have required another three-pointer to win. Instead, they effectively ruled out the option of two kicks to win. Thereafter, they had to score a try.
Munster’s attacking lineouts failed them badly in their Euro semi-final defeat and here the towering Ryan disrupted Niall Scannell’s throw at the front, before James Tracy won the relieving turnover penalty.
This key passage thus left Munster playing catch-up and, on the counter-attack, Zebo’s intended pass for Darren Sweetnam floated forward. Leinster’s frontrow replacements had turned the tide and from the resultant scrum, Welsh assistant referee Craig Evans deemed Dave Kilcoyne brought the scrum down when actually he looked to be making a far better effort to keep it up than Andrew Porter, whose body was longer and first to the deck.
It was a hugely debatable call.
After Gerbrant Grobler, who along with Copeland again gave Munster real oomph off the bench, scored his first try in his last appearance for the club from Murray’s quick tap, Munster had one last dramatic throw of the dice when Zebo led a breakout from deep, and linked with Earls, before Murray and Copeland won loose ball.
But Berry then pinged Kilkcoyne for holding on, when some referees may have decreed Max Deegan had not released before latching over the ball. That completed a 12-6 penalty count in favour of the home side.
It was somewhat fitting that Deegan, who a week ago was in a losing B&I Cup final defeat away to Ealing Trailfinders, had the final say, if only as a demonstration of Leinster’s unequalled strength in depth.
He has been one of four different number eights employed by Leinster this season, and with the second highest number of games, nine, behind Conan, here making his 17th start at eight’. When Murphy decided to move to Ulster, he wasn’t making Leinster’s European match-day 23. But he’s ended up making 17 starts – five on the blindside, a ninth here at openside and three games at 8, namely the three knock-out European games.
Such versatility and form will be missed too.
Scoring sequence: 8 mins Conan try, Carbery con 7-0; 19 mins Hanrahan pen 7-3; 21 mins Byrne pen 10-3; (half-time 10-3); 44 mins Earls try 10-8; 46 mins Byrne pen 13-8; 77 mins Carbery pen 16-8; 79 mins Grobler try, Keatley con 16-15.
LEINSTER: Joey Carbery; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Isa Nacewa (capt), James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy, Jack Conan. Replacements: Barry Daly for Byrne (37-40 mins), Rory O’Loughlin for Nacewa (half-time), Cian Healy for J McGrath (47 mins), James Tracy for Cronin, Andrew Porter for Furlong (both 56 mins), Scott Fardy for Ruddock (63 mins), Nick McCarthy for McGrath (78 mins), Max Deegan for Murphy (79 mins).
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Rhys Marshall, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (C), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander. Replacements: Robin Copeland for O’Donoghue (11 mins), Ian Keatley for Hanrahan (half-time), Gerbrandt Grobler for Holland (51 mins), Dave Kilcoyne for Cronin (54 mins), Niall Scannell for Marshall (59 mins), Darren Sweetnam for Arnold (63 mins),Ciaran Parker for Ryan (74 mins).
Referee: Stuart Berry (SARU).