Wednesday 20 September 2017

Search for silver lining proves Blues' authority

Leinster 16
Munster 6

Leinster's Cian Healy acknowledges the supporters at the RDS last night after his side's fourth successive victory over Munster
Leinster's Cian Healy acknowledges the supporters at the RDS last night after his side's fourth successive victory over Munster


It wasn't too hard to work out which worried Munster more: the prospect of missing out on a Magners League final or losing to Leinster for the fourth time in a row. In front of a full house of 19,750 at the RDS last night Leinster stood over them until they ticked both boxes.

The home team are back at the same venue in a fortnight to face the Ospreys in the final. They were well worth the win.

Fatigue has been the dominant theme over the last fortnight since both of these teams went out of the Heineken Cup. Well, fatigue and injury -- and in the season after a Lions tour, the relationship between the two. For the Reds we've had the ongoing saga of Paul O'Connell, a depressing tale, the telling of which has been wholly mismanaged by Munster. And in the Leinster camp there were fears that post Toulouse, and without captain Leo Cullen, they just didn't have the energy to bring to the closing stages of the Magners.

Well both sides made a decent fist of looking hungry last night. It has been rare over the last few years that this fixture has not delivered rugby of a high quality and this was more of the same.

What will please Leinster most perhaps, was that the way the game was unfolding they could readily have lost. They turned over at half-time 3-3 despite having had the benefit of the stiff breeze. And the second half had barely started when Ronan O'Gara dropped a lovely goal courtesy of Malcolm O'Kelly losing the drop off to the new half. You could see Munster, once they had secured the restart from that score, easing back in the chair and surveying the best route to the winning post.

In fairness to them they had made most of the running in the first half so they must have thought they would get more chances. Their problem had been a familiar one for them this season: establishing beachheads and them taking them apart again before doing some damage. Nick Williams had slipped in the first half five metres out when had he stayed upright it was a try. And they had coughed up ball at, or immediately after, the set-piece on three vital occasions.

But once faced with the challenge, Leinster responded like a group who fully believe they have what it takes to win this fixture regardless of the circumstances. It showed in how they coped when Shane Horgan was binned in the first half for a daft challenge in the air on Niall Ronan.

It helps when you have players in the form of Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip. The No 8 was irresistible again and picked up the man-of-the-match award, but Jennings -- helped by David Wallace starting on the bench -- laid down a marker here to start for Ireland on the tour Down Under next month.

Both were excellent in a Leinster pack that occasionally rumbled Munster backwards at the scrum. And everywhere else they were either level or ahead in the key match-ups. Perhaps if they hadn't responded quickly to O'Gara's drop goal Munster might have got a grip on the game, but within a couple of minutes Leinster were ahead. They rely hugely on Sexton wrapping around his centres but rarely has it worked as sweetly as here. He carved through a gap and sent Rob Kearney over for what Tony McGahan will see as a soft score.

Then he added the points for a 10-6 lead. And soon after he tacked on a penalty to make it 13-6. Munster were struggling and when O'Gara failed to close the gap with a long-range effort, the home crowd could sense things getting better. They should have been out of sight in the last quarter when Tomas O'Leary high-tackled Cian Healy two metres from the line. How it wasn't a penalty try was a mystery.

Not that it mattered. Sexton took three points from it and Munster couldn't score once, never mind twice. No arguments then about the winner. And no arguments about who currently is top dog in the Irish household.

Scorers -- Leinster: Kearney try, Sexton 3 pens, 1 con. Munster: O'Gara 1 pen, 1 d-g.

Leinster: R Kearney; S Horgan (yc 14-24), B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy (S Wright 85), J Fogarty (R Strauss 82), S Wright (CJ van der Linde 47), N Hines (T Hogan 88), M O'Kelly, K McLaughlin, J Heaslip, S Jennings

Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, K Earls, J de Villiers (D Hurley 68), L Mafi; R O'Gara, T O'Leary (P Stringer 72); M Horan, D Varley, J Hayes (D Ryan 61), D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll, A Quinlan, N Williams (D Wallace 56), N Ronan (J Coughlan 69)

Referee: N Owens (Wales)

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