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Friday 2 December 2016

Quality Leinster look streets ahead

Leinster 25 Munster 14

Published 09/10/2016 | 02:30

Leinster’s Isa Nacewa scores his side’s first try despite the tackle of Darren Sweetnam in the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran/ Sportsfile
Leinster’s Isa Nacewa scores his side’s first try despite the tackle of Darren Sweetnam in the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran/ Sportsfile

One of the attractions of this fixture is its timing: a stepping stone to the upper tier that is European competition, all involved should feel they are at the right pitch for what comes next.

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Then there is the fact that it's Ireland's premier pairing, so regardless of what's coming down the line, we should be getting excited about that in itself. Throw in the 'final trial' element, with the November series a few weeks away, and you had a contest with very high stakes.

Munster's Jaco Taute scores his side's second try despite the best efforts of Joey Carbery . Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Munster's Jaco Taute scores his side's second try despite the best efforts of Joey Carbery . Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It didn't feel that way. We had perfect conditions, a crowd of 40,527, but with Munster a distant second best pretty much everywhere bar the maul, there wasn't a lot of bite to it. And Leinster versus Munster games with no edge is not what you're looking for.

The issue was put to bed as early as the 55th minute when Isa Nacewa, a contender for man of the match - which went to Johnny Sexton - scored his second try off a dodgy-looking pass from Rob Kearney. Why referee David Wilkinson didn't go upstairs was odd.

"He could have referred it but he was on the spot and decided it wasn't forward," Rassie Erasmus said afterwards. "We shouldn't be relying on that to win games."

Wilkinson did consult the TMO for Jamison Gibson-Park's try on 68 minutes. It was a hard call, but given that Ronan O'Mahony messed up badly when trying to clean up a lovely kick ahead by Robbie Henshaw, you never felt it was going to go Munster's way. And they didn't complain. It was a perfect example of the lack of quality in the Munster side, and Europe will only emphasise that.

Henshaw had a fine debut. And the time is now right for Joe Schmidt to pair him with Garry Ringrose in the Ireland midfield, with Jared Payne shifting to fullback. Ringrose will be haunted by a knock-on just before the half-hour mark when he was trying to gather and score from a perfect grubber kick. Sexton's little stab of the ball was sublime; Ringrose's spill, less so.

Aside from that he was excellent. His ability to ride tackles and then make the right decision is first class. And Leinster fans should be pleased with what's to come from the partnership with Henshaw.

They should be happy also with the performance of their pack. Their only issue was defence at the maul. "I was happy overall but I thought we got a good couple of reminders about stopping their drives," Leo Cullen said. "Against two really big French teams to come in our European pool it showed the importance of dealing early with that drive."

On the plus side Leinster were 100pc at the set-piece, and the scrum especially was a great platform for them to attack. It provided perfect ball for Nacewa to squeeze over for his first try, facilitated in the first place by Munster being turned over on an exit - they conceded a whopping 13 over the course of the 80 minutes - and in the second by Darren Sweetnam getting his defensive line slightly wrong. Against someone of Nacewa's quality, that's all it takes.

Jack O’Donoghue is tackled by Robbie Henshaw. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jack O’Donoghue is tackled by Robbie Henshaw. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"You can't win games with stats like that," said CJ Stander. "I don't think it was big stuff [that went wrong] - we just needed better footwork and ball placement so there's plenty to work on over the next few weeks."

Leinster badly needed that Nacewa score for somehow they had managed to fall behind. Sexton stuck over two penalties to reflect their dominance but then Munster, on a rare visit deep into Leinster's defence, mauled their way over for Peter O'Mahony to touch down.

Tyler Bleyendaal's conversion gave them what was an unlikely lead, but it lasted less than 10 minutes. And was never seen again. That Nacewa try gave the home side an 11-7 lead at half-time, and they never looked in any trouble in the second half.

Instead, the Sexton-Henshaw-Ringrose axis got stronger. Having Joey Carbery to come off the bench is also a luxury. The first thing he did, when coming on with 11 minutes left, was to leave a defender standing. It has become his trademark.

"We're disappointed to lose and not to get a bonus point out of it," Erasmus said. "I think the mistakes we made were simple errors. We made those errors - they didn't."

It must have frustrated him hugely to see balls spilled under minimal pressure. Leinster were intent on stripping at every opportunity, but it was the other stuff that cost Munster when they needed to be solid.

"I think that was a really good warm-up for us going into Europe," tighthead Tadhg Furlong said. "With two French teams coming up that was ideal."

Four wins in a row illustrates perfectly where they're at. It should be five by close of business next weekend.

Scorers - Leinster: Nacewa 2 tries, Gibson-Park try; Sexton 2 pens, 2 cons. Munster: O'Mahony, Taute try each; Bleyendaal 2 cons.
Leinster: R Kearney (N Reid 76); R O'Loughlin, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (capt); J Sexton (J Carbery 69), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 64); C Healy (J McGrath 49), S Cronin (J Tracy 53), T Furlong (M Ross 64); D Toner, I Nagle (R Molony 53); R Ruddock, J Heaslip, J Murphy (D Leavy 61).
Munster: S Zebo; D Sweetnam, K Earls (J Taute 57), R Scannell (I Keatley 71), R O'Mahony; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 46), N Scannell (D Casey 76), J Ryan (S Archer 64); D Ryan (R Copeland 69) B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt) (J O'Donoghue h-t), CJ Stander, T O'Donnell.
Referee: D Wilkinson (IRFU)

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