Garry Ringrose's magic inspires ruthless Blues to victory over Munster
Injury fears over Murray, Earls and Healy ahead of Six Nations as Munster’s fifth straight defeat ramps up pressure on Foley
It's been a while since Thomond Park has felt like the place of old and it did last night but it was the fractured Munster of new who ran into an impressive Leinster side who were ruthlessly clinical in everything that they did.
Munster 7 Leinster 24
Munster may have slim hopes of advancing in Europe but they will travel to Belfast this weekend looking to avoid a sixth defeat in a row before they play Stade Francais back to back.
Just as they have done in recent weeks, Munster struggled to turn their territory and possession into points whereas Leinster had no such trouble in doing so when presented with limited opportunities.
"The concern I have is that we're not scoring - we had plenty of opportunities and plenty of possession," Anthony Foley bemoaned. "The last four games, we were very soft in the opposition 22 in terms of giving up the ball. It's needless.
"We don't get the scoreboard ticking over. We have the ball but unfortunately we don't seem to be ruthless enough in that area of the pitch to get points on the board.
"There's experienced players dropping balls under no pressure. When you've lost four games on the bounce, confidence becomes an issue."
The home side were dealt a double below before kick off with Conor Murray (hip) and BJ Botha (illness) ruled out and also they lost James Cronin and Keith Earls through injury in what was a hugely physical encounter.
Ireland are due to reconvene at Carton House at the weekend and Joe Schmidt also watched Cian Healy (knee) hobble off late on as both sides were left to count the cost.
Leinster's problems of late have stemmed from the fact that their bigger players have been out of form but that wasn't the case last night as Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Ian Madigan were outstanding throughout.
Garry Ringrose's involvement over the last few games has been limited to waterboy duty but it was his moment of magic early on that inspired Leinster to what could well prove to be a season-defining victory.
Heaslip caught a hesitant Tomas O'Leary at the breakdown and Leinster's blistering counter-attack caught Munster completely off guard. Ian Madigan shovelled the ball onto O'Brien, who after a few weeks out, looked back to his bruising best.
He made ground up the right before feeding Ringrose, who lit up the Limerick night sky with the kind of searing break that has him primed for the bigger stage.
The 20-year old burst past Jack O'Donoghue, who found himself in the unwanted position on the right wing.
With Fergus McFadden on his outside, Ringrose backed himself and stood up Andrew Conway before offloading on his inside to Isa Nacewa, who had the easiest of tasks to dot down. Madigan converted for a 7-0 lead after just four minutes.
Tyler Bleyendaal was given the nod ahead of the out-of-form Ian Keatley but the New Zealander, who has been struggling with a quad injury in recent months, looked far from fit.
He handed the kicking duties to Rory Scannell but he got off to a poor start by missing a penalty into a swirling breeze in front of the posts.
Most sides in the world would miss a player of Murray's calibre but his replacement O'Leary was seriously hindering his side's attempts at generating quick ball. O'Leary was slow to the breakdown and when he did get there, was ponderous on almost every occasion.
Madigan extended Leinster's lead after quarter of an hour with a brilliant penalty from wide on the right after a rare foray into the Munster half.
Earls and Francis Saili linked cleverly in midfield but the Limerick man came off second best in a tackle with Luke Fitzgerald. Earls was stretchered off.
Mike Sherry thought he was over for a try but a brilliant last-ditch covering tackle from O'Brien and Jack McGrath held him up. Munster remained patient from the resulting five-metre scrum and Robin Copeland eventually crashed his way over under the posts with two minutes left in the half. Scannell added the extras to cut the deficit to (10-7) at the break.
Munster continued to dominate territorially but they couldn't make it count on the scoreboard - and they didn't help themselves shortly after the restart by declining the three points on offer and instead kicking for the corner.
It was a big decision and it was one that backfired as O'Brien forced a trademark turnover penalty, and six minutes later Leinster went down the other end of the pitch and scored.
"We always back the decisions out on the pitch," Foley maintained. "It was a left-footed kicker kicking on the left-hand side of the pitch with the wind going across him. You go to the corner and you back your maul, but the maul didn't function."
Madigan, who played with a swagger all evening, expertly found Nacewa with a cross-field kick. He was held up just short but McGrath wasn't as the visitors got over for their second try that Madigan again converted.
In many ways, that six-minute spell typified Munster's struggles in recent weeks as Leinster clinically took their chance when the Reds were unable to.
Tommy O'Donnell made a welcome return following five months out with a hip injury - one of the few scraps of positive that Munster could take from yet another sobering evening.
Leinster continued to soak up the pressure but you never really felt like they were going to be stretched as Munster were far too predictable in everything that they threw at them.
Zane Kirchner rubbed salt into the wounds right at the death when he picked off a sloppy pass from Saili to sprint clear from half way. Madigan's conversion completed the rout as the natives' frustrations rained down from the stands.
Four of Munster's next five games are away from home and based on recent evidence, they could be glad to get out of Dodge, for a few weeks at least.
Munster - A Conway; K Earls (L Gonzalez Amorosino 35), F Saili, R Scannell, S Zebo; T Bleyendaal (D Hurley 59), T O'Leary (D Williams 59); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 19), M Sherry (N Scannell 65), J Ryan (M Sagario 72); D Foley (B Holland 62), D Ryan; R Copeland, J O'Donoghue (T O'Donnell 59), CJ Stander (capt).
Leinster - Z Kirchner; F McFadden, G Ringrose, L Fitzgerald, I Nacewa (capt); I Madigan, E Reddan; J McGrath (C Healy 56) (McGrath 74), S Cronin (J Tracy 56), T Furlong (M Moore 56); D Toner, T Denton (R Molony 60); D Ryan, S O'Brien (J van der Flier 70), J Heaslip.
REF - D Wilkinson (IRFU)