Leinster 3 Munster 27
This latest instalment may have been a less than meaningful opener to a half-baked, end-of-season competition, but from the moment the teams were announced at noon on Friday it became simply a must-win game for Munster.
Further reshuffling after the loss of Caelan Doris (calf) and replacement Ciarán Frawley (hamstring), and then Harry Byrne after five minutes, made a victory even more imperative for Munster.
Three years of hurt and six successive defeats went into this performance, indeed over six years of hurt and nine consecutive losses in the capital. It showed in an ultra-aggressive performance from the off as Munster won the gain line on both sides of the ball, CJ Stander, Jean Kleyn and Damien de Allende leading the way, although all contributed.
We looked at what could we do better and I felt it was a very good performance tonight
Even Joey Carbery, targeted mercilessly here four weeks ago, and decked whenever he spent too long on the ball, carried ten metres over the gain line off a scrum.
In truth, Munster laboured a tad to put their spiky old foes away, until Conor Murray pilfered his second try just past the hour.
Afterwards, Munster didn’t swing from the chandeliers and Johann van Graan struck a sufficiently balanced tone.
“We didn’t spend a lot of time on the six defeats in a row,” maintained the Munster head coach, which may have been true but then again they didn’t need to. It was there.
“We looked at what could we do better and I felt it was a very good performance tonight. We haven’t won here as a club for a long time so this was an important game for us.
“The belief has never changed, in fact the belief only grew after the final and we came close a few times; and I’ll take a three tries to zero win in the RDS any day of the week.”
Critically, Munster also negated Leinster’s maul, rendering it almost impotent in the manner O’Mahony and co engineered steals or how all of their forwards put their shoulders to the wheel from the moment Leinster’s catcher landed.
There was plenty of edge, with old acquaintances in green renewing blue-red hostilities; James Ryan chucking Tadhg Beirne to the ground in conceding a penalty after their first maul was spoiled by Stephen Archer and claiming he was punched.
Peter O’Mahony, in vintage scowling mood, had an entertaining dialogue with referee Chris Busby throughout. Advised to calm down, the Munster skipper’s retorted: “Tell him [Ryan] to calm down.”
Not long after, O’Mahony was ripping the ball from Hugh O’Sullivan, who was given a torrid night by Munster’s work in contact, counter-rucking and pressure around the fringes. Leinster gave him scant protection and even Luke McGrath or Jamison Gibson-Park would have struggled.
Not for the last time, Munster used the turnover ball sharply, Murray and Carbery moving the ball on to de Allende, who stepped inside Scott Penny and fended Andrew Porter before turning Jordan Larmour inside out and putting Murray over with a one-handed inside offload.
Munster’s aggression contributed to a 14-11 penalty count against them and cost them an overturned close-range penalty when Archer was a little lucky to escape with a yellow card for some decidedly old-school rucking on Ryan’s body.
The game was still in the balance early in the second half when Leinster went to the corner at 3-10 down. Having sacked the maul again, Munster backed this up with sharp and physical defending around the fringes, notably by Stander and O’Donoghue in tandem on two occasions, before Niall Scannell ripped the ball from Ed Byrne.
Playing catch-up after Carbery’s second penalty made it a two-score game, Leinster nearly manufactured a contender for try of the season from deep but when attempting to do so again, they afforded Munster the attacking scrum from which they killed the game.
Their launch plays were better all game, and after de Allende bumped Tommy O’Brien, three phases later Gavin Coombes carried, pivoted and offloaded to Chris Farrell before Murray plunged over.
The coup de grace was a penalty try off a maul to seal their biggest win since that 30-6 European Cup semi-final win 15 tears ago. Even so, there was collective on-field bemusement from O’Mahony and co when two ‘captain’s challenges’ were rejected.
What this Covid has taught us is don't look too far into the future, who knows what it holds
“We kind of took stock after the Toulouse and the Leinster defeats and saw this as the start of a new season because it’s a totally new competition for us,” said van Graan.
“We worked on quite a few parts of our game over the last two weeks and we had some good moments out there today.
“Defensively I thought the breakdown was a real battle and one of the more pleasing things is we managed a lot more territory in this game, you know, we had quite a few set-pieces in their 22.”
It remains to be seen if this Rainbow Cup this is a random six-game, 12-team race to a top two and a place in the final.
“What this Covid has taught us is don’t look too far into the future, who knows what it holds,” said van Graan wryly. “Those are the cards that have been dealt and we know there’s interpros.
“We said let’s get past the first one and then take stock again. We’ll definitely use our squad over the coming weeks and make sure we expose different guys to game time whilst not conceding on performance.”
And whatever else, whenever this two meet again, Munster have removed a monkey off their backs.
Scoring sequence: 5 mins Murray try, Carbery con 0-7; 9 mins Hawkshaw pen 3-7; 37 mins Carbery pen 3-10; (half-time 3-10); 53 mins Carbery pen 3-13; 62 mins Murray try, Carbery con 3-20; 72 mins penalty try 3-27.
LEINSTER: Jordan Larmour; Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose (captain), Rory O'Loughlin, James Lowe; Harry Byrne, Hugh O'Sullivan; Ed Byrne, Dan Sheehan, Andrew Porter; Ross Molony, James Ryan; Ryan Baird, Scott Penny, Josh Murphy.
Replacements: David Hawkshaw for H Byrne (6 mins), Seán Cronin for Sheahan, Peter Dooley for E Byrne, Michael Bent for Porter (all 58 mins), Scott Fardy for Ryan (61 mins), Tommy O'Brien for Ringrose (59 mins), Cormac Foley for O'Sullivan (67 mins), Martin Moloney for Baird (73 mins).
Sinbinned – Foley (72 mins)
MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O'Mahony (capt), Jack O'Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Keynan Knox for O'Donoghue (42-44 and 67 mins), Fineen Wycherley for Kleyn, Gavin Coombes for O'Donoghue (both 56 mins), Jeremy Loughman for Kilcoyne (59 mins), Craig Casey for Murray (63 mins), Calvin Nash for Earls (64 mins), Ben Healy for Carbery (68 mins), Diarmuid Barron for Scannell (73 mins),
Sinbinned – (34-44 mins).
Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU).