Relentless Leinster smother Munster challenge to retain Pro14 title

Defending champions make it four on the bounce as rivals’ trophy drought goes on

Leinster celebrate with the trophy after their Pro14 final win. Photograph: Donall Farmer/PA

Leinster celebrate with the trophy after their Pro14 final win. Photograph: Donall Farmer/PA

 

Leinster 16 Munster 6

Leinster’s maintained their Indian sign over their auld rivals to claim a fourth Pro14 in a row and a sixth victory over Munster in succession, the longest in the fixture’s history.

When you know how to win, you know how to win, and in stark contrast to Munster, Leinster’s winning know-how in semi-finals and finals has become a habit.

In truth, although Leinster only put themselves two scores clear entering the last 10 minutes, this never felt in any great doubt. Certainly Leinster were the dominant from the off to the finish in what will be as sobering a setback for Munster as any they’ve suffered in the last trophyless 10 years.

It was no classic and defences were on top. But all that said and done, Leinster had better launch plays, with Luke McGrath and Ross Byrne utilising wraparounds or hitting Robbie Henshaw. They also carried harder into and over the gainline, and hence were much more effective at building through the phases.

Luke McGrath consoles Tadhg Beirne after Leinster’s Pro14 final win over Munster. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Luke McGrath consoles Tadhg Beirne after Leinster’s Pro14 final win over Munster. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Very uncharacteristically though, save for a couple of penalties, they failed to convert about half a dozen visits deep inside the Munster 22 into tries and so trooped off six-all at the break despite dominating the first half-hour.

However, they reverted to a dog-eared script to score the game’s only try through their forwards’ relentless close-in charges soon after the resumption, and such was their vastly superior accuracy in much of what they did that that was pretty much it.

Rónan Kelleher and Josh van der Flier began like express trains, Robbie Henshaw maintained his rich vein of form, while the influence of Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan grew and grew.

The one blemish, particularly with Toulon due here in six days, was that Johnny Sexton departed for an HIA soon after his arrival and did not return,

Leinster targeted Joey Carbery in defence and negated the poaching threat of CJ Stander, Tadhg Beirne and Peter O’Mahony with the sharpness of their clear-outs and the only Munstermen to make any headway into the thick blue line were Gavin Coombes and Dave Kilcoyne.

Working off static ball, not for the first time, Munster’s attack was made to look utterly impotent.

Literally from the off Munster put themselves on the back foot when Jean Kleyn failed to gather Ross Byrne’s kick-off and Murray was tackled into touch. Leinster launched Henshaw off the lineout and for Munster to only concede a three-pointer by Byrne from the ensuing attack was something of a result.

They were even more relieved when Rory O’Loughlin’s high pass went through Jordan Larmour’s hands after Stander and Kleyn’s mix up gave Leinster a scrum inside halfway, Kelleher then piercing the defensive line from Andrew Porter’s tip-on pass.

Leinster opted for the corner when John Ryan didn’t roll away before taking another three when Niall Scannell went off his feet. They were full value for it too.

Jack Conan emerges after scoring the only try of the match against Munster. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Jack Conan emerges after scoring the only try of the match against Munster. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Munster needed a lift, and Kleyn provided it with a big hit on Healy, who was very swiftly pinged for not releasing by Mike Adamson, enabling Carbery to open Munster’s account.

That was Munster’s cue to put together some phases off lineouts and Keith Earls was seeing plenty of ball in midfield traffic. But Leinster’s defence, with Josh van der Flier given licence to apply pressure by shooting off the line, was comfy. Chris Farrell overfloated a pass to Andrew Conway and Dave Kearney engineered another turnover after Mike Haley’s carry.

Leinster carried more threat and worked an apparent overlap but Byrne didn’t release soon enough and O’Loughlin’s long pass again eluded Larmour.

But a needless quick throw by Earls was fumbled by Haley, affording Leinster an attacking scrum. Henshaw powered through Carbery’s tackle and only Coombes’s shin prevented Fardy from grounding the ball in the opinion of Adamson, if not the Leinster players.

Unusually, Leinster gave Munster another lifeline when Van der Flier overran the ball to concede a penalty for crossing.

Van der Flier soon atoned with a typical square carry and offload to meet Hugo Keenan’s superb line, and he found Henshaw in support. Munster were indebted to Farrell’s tackle and then, on the back foot from the recycle in their own 22 for about the sixth time in the half, to Earls intercepting Van der Flier’s pass.

Murray even had the distance with a penalty from inside halfway but was wide, while Coombes - the only uncapped player on the pitch at kick-off - galvanised his team with a huge, leg-pumping gallop.

Carbery’s 40-metre penalty smacked off the upright but after earning another shot at goal with a carry when high tackled by Conan, the Munster outhalf drew the sides level with the last kick of the half.

On the resumption, Leinster reverted to their tried and tested formula. First they repelled the Munster carriers before Kleyn took his eye off Murray’s pass and knocked on. Andrew Porter got the nudge on James Cronin at the ensuing scrum, when Munster were pinged for wheeling and Leinster went up the line.

After launching Henshaw up the middle, the Leinster pack kept the ball to themselves with a procession of pick-and-jams in time-honoured fashion. Conan was held up a second time, but after driving off the ensuing scrum himself, the number eight eventually burrowed over and Byrne converted.

Carbery’s restart going out on the full didn’t help Munster’s cause and, after the loss of an injured Peter O’Mahony and a raft of frontrow replacements, Byrne missed the chance to put Leinster 10 points ahead not long after receiving treatment for a leg or knee injury, and soon after was replaced by Sexton.

Even when Munster began to finally generate some ferocity at the breakdown and with it some momentum, Ryan Baird - barely on for Fardy - had the temerity to rip the ball from Stander for the increasingly influential Ruddock to lead the counter charge.

Keith Earls is shackled during Munster’s Pro14 final defeat to Leinster. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Keith Earls is shackled during Munster’s Pro14 final defeat to Leinster. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Kleyn did rip the ball from Ruddock and Munster knocked again, but Murray’s pass bounced off Kleyn’s face.

Byrne, still limping slightly, returned for a bloodied Sexton, and McGrath found a huge touch before Conan punished a miscued boxkick by Murray with a mighty charge. A penalty for offside followed and Byrne kicked Leinster two scores ahead.

The Leinster entourage, loud from the off, cheered heartily when Earls fumbled a long punt by McGrath. Munster looked a beaten docket, a thumping hit by Henshaw on Farrell and a kick out on the full by Craig Casey confirming as much.

Leinster forced Munster to play catch-up, before O’Loughlin claimed a chip from JJ Hanrahan and soon after Byrne kicked the ball dead with the clock in the red.

Michael Bent and Devin Toner lifted the trophy as Leinster became champions for an eighth time. They pass this honour around like confetti.

Scoring sequence: 4 mins Byrne pen 3-0; 12 mins Byrne pen 6-0; 14 mins Carbery pen 6-3; 40 (+ 1 min) Carbery pen 6-6; (half-time 6-6); 48 mins Conan try, Byrne con 13-6; 69 mins Byrne pen 16-6.

Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Rory O’Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath (capt); Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher, Andrew Porter; Devin Toner, Scott Fardy; Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan. Replacements: Ed Byrne for Healy, Tadhg Furlong for Porter (both 53 mins), Ryan Baird for Fardy, Johnny Sexton for Byrne (both 59 mins), Byrne for (62 mins), James Tracy for Kelleher (70 mins), Ross Molony for Ruddock (74 mins), Jamison Gibson-Park for McGrath (76 mins). Not used - James Lowe.

Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Gavin Coombes, Peter O’Mahony (capt), CJ Stander. Replacements: Jack O’Donoghue for O’Mahony (49 mins), Dave Kilcoyne for Cronin, Stephen Archer for Ryan (both 52 mins), Kevin O’Byrne for N Scannell (53 mins), Billy Holland for Kleyn, Craig Casey for Murray, JJ Hanrahan for Carbery (all 70 mins), Rory Scannell for de Allende (74 mins).

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU).

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