Blues despair as Munster get best of white-hot clash
Leinster left to rue the one that got away as smarter side secures the points, writes Neil Francis
It was a match played with such white-hot intensity, it should have set the sprinkler system off. Both teams started off at 100-metre pace and it was clear they intended to keep that pace going for whole match.
However, long before the match finished there would be signs of tiredness and people falling off tackles.
Leinster played for the first 40 minutes with such intelligence and unerring determination and accuracy that you felt 20 points at half-time never really told the whole story.
The expression of emotion in every player along with Leinster's body language told you that they were there to win, and in every Leinster man there was not one subconscious negative emotion.
Both teams were hungry. How can you define hunger? More importantly, how do you exploit it?
Munster looked like a fire engine, heading to the wrong fire, and their inability to generate fast ball, or ball that was worth running, told against them again and again. Additionally, there were worrying little cameos which told Munster that they should kick more.
If Tony McGahan wanted to win this contest, he should have gone backwards to go forwards.
The Munster coach should have used his maul, he should have got Ronan O'Gara to do what he does best and he should have got his back row and his driving forwards running 10 or 15 metres away from the breakdown and got the traditional pick-and-go and pick-and-go.
I'm not sure if it would have made a huge difference because, in the first half, Leinster played with such uncompromising excellence.
That little cameo we were talking about: when O'Connell took the ball on and was hit with such devastating power by Richardt Strauss and Kevin McLaughlin that you felt the strength and determination fizzle out of Munster, as they saw their iconic second-row picked up and dumped on his backside.
Leinster's first try was derived from supreme confidence; they had a scrum in midfield, from which they picked up a free-kick, but such was their confidence they decided to hang on to the ball and use their scrum again.
Leinster were contending with the Munster scrum with consummate ease. Cian Healy's clash with Tony Buckley told you that they were in the comfort zone in this area of the game.
Buckley is a huge man. When he was a kid, he could only play 'seek', but his power and size could do nothing to prevent Healy from having a really solid afternoon against him.
Leinster had thought out what they wanted to do, from promising tight situations in good attacking areas.
The quality of thought and the accuracy of execution was bewildering -- a simple eight-nine, Isaac Boss tapped Jamie Heaslip on the backside, the pick-up was quick and his feed to Boss would spread further right, giving them momentum.
We expected width when Boss fed Gordon D'Arcy, maybe somebody looping outside, but Isa Nacewa, lurking outside, struck a delicious line back inside and Munster's defence -- quite like the Red Sea -- opened up in front of him and he scooted through looking to link.
Everybody had a marker and so the crossfield chip had the sort of geometric precision that makes it easy for the chasers. Shane Horgan kept his composure and concentration and Lifeimi Mafi's hands weren't quick enough as they both lunged.
Leinster went further ahead, not on the scoreboard but just in terms of their confidence to play, and on the 25th minute they started playing their off-load game.
They were getting rid of the ball just before the tackle and playing some very neat little triangles. In contrast, every time Munster got the ball, they looked like they would make themselves targets and possession seemed to be a liability.
When Murphy got yellow-carded in the 34th minute, for a really daft penalty, Munster did well not to concede a huge amount more on the scoreboard and were unlucky as they were deep in Leinster territory, typically on attack with a man down.
Boss had no right to steal ball at ruck time, he kicked long, Heaslip picked up the awkward bounce and Munster had to scramble to stop a try. The score was at 20-9, with Leinster completely dominant, but the game far from being decided. McGahan would have to earn his corn during the half-time talk.
From his position in the stand, McGahan looked like Eeyore, without the joie de vivre. Whatever he said had the desired affect.
The second half started off with an unbelievable intensity that superseded even the action of the first half. Munster went about chipping away at the Leinster lead, with not a little help from Andrew Small, and early into the second half, the penalty count was 2-1 against Leinster.
It brought worry for Joe Schmidt, and was slightly incongruous -- a superior side were conceding so many penalties. But, in fairness, Munster had ramped up the intensity and were applying pressure in areas where they simply did not in the first half.
But then came a horrible moment in the 46th minute: Paul O'Connell, jumping high into the Limerick sky, came down and his purchase on the ground as he landed wasn't absolutely sure, his face winced with the sort of pain which suggested that he might be out for another protracted period on the sidelines.
Munster got on with it, playing the sort of game that suited them, and they caught up with Leinster's lead. Brian O'Driscoll got sin-binned in the 60th minute. Munster off-loaded their bench and the game was on. The smarter side, as opposed to the side who wanted it most, would win this game.
Munster responded with their innate intelligence and went back to their native game, forgot about running, picked and drove, picked and drove, and kept the ball. They haven't scored a try in 480 minutes.
Leinster, when they look into the bedpan of defeat, will wonder how this one got away. These sides will assuredly meet again at the business end of the Magners League.
Sunday Indo Sport