Byrne's boot steers Blues to pulsating derby victory
Munster 24 Leinster 34
Big moments decide big games, and two from Leinster in the space of a minute in the latter stages of an enthralling derby earned them the bragging rights.
This 10-point victory was another big statement from Leinster, who are increasingly looking like a team who will finish this season with a trophy, while for Munster, Johann van Graan was handed his first defeat since taking over.
The sold-out 26,267 crowd at Thomond Park were treated to an epic tussle that was as good as two old foes have offered up in some time.
Trailing 27-5 at half-time, Munster ultimately left themselves far too much to do but they did mount a stirring comeback that was eventually halted by two match-winning interventions.
The hosts had clawed their way back into the contest (19-27) with tries from Ian Keatley and Andrew Conway after the restart but, when man of the match Dan Leavy forced a crucial turnover penalty under his own posts after 68 minutes, it brought an end to a barrage of Munster pressure.
That allowed Leinster to clear the danger before Jordan Larmour took centre stage once again.
After his sensational solo effort against Ulster last month, the 20-year old scored yet another try-of-the-season contender from almost 80 metres to seal a precious victory and extend Leinster's unbeaten run to five games.
It was a moment of magic and one that was fitting to win any game of this magnitude. Munster were well off the pace throughout a disjointed first-half showing and were repeatedly punished for their wayward kicking game.
Van Graan faced his first difficult half-time team talk and his players responded well as they outscored Leinster by 19 points to seven but, again, the damage had been done earlier.
The tone was set inside the first minute when Leavy forced a trademark turnover penalty after Alex Wootton had taken the ball into contact and found himself isolated.
Byrne punished Munster's early indiscipline by kicking the opening three points and eight minutes later, the Leinster out-half turned creator for Leavy with an exquisite cross-field kick.
Larmour made the initial break and after the ball bounced favourably off James Tracy, Barry Daly rescued the situation, which set the platform for Byrne to put the ball on a plate for Leavy who had held his width on the far left touchline.
The Munster players were incensed as they believed Larmour had blocked Wootton off the ball in midfield but after consulting his TMO, referee Nigel Owens awarded the try.
Byrne added the extras before he fired over a 13th-minute penalty to open up a 13-0 lead, which stunned the home crowd into silence.
Munster eventually made their first meaningful foray into the Leinster 22 and they made it count. Keatley's clever chip over the top created the opening and after that it was all about Conor Murray.
The Ireland scrum-half linked well with Wootton and when he was stopped short, Leinster conceded the penalty.
Keatley put the ball in the corner and Munster caught the visitors cold when Murray was lifted in the lineout.
Jean Kleyn made a powerful surge for the whitewash but was hauled down. Murray, however, was on hand to snipe over from close range.
Keatley was wide with the conversion as the gap was cut to eight but that was as good as it good for Munster in what was an utterly one-sided first half.
Leinster recomposed themselves and stamped their authority all over proceedings and scored two more tries before the break.
After 21 minutes, Larmour again provided the spark. This time the electric full-back kicked the ball through for James Lowe who looked like scoring until Conway slide tackled him from behind and impeded him.
Owens again went to the TMO and it resulted in Conway spending 10 minutes in the sin bin and a seven-point penalty try was awarded against his side.
It was quickly going from bad to worse for the hosts and barely two minutes later, Henshaw went over for a third first-half try.
Rory O'Loughlin found a gaping hole in the Munster defence and, after gliding straight through it, fed Daly who in turn offloaded for Henshaw for a stunning try. Byrne maintained his 100pc record with the boot for a 27-5 lead.
Munster might have cut the deficit shortly before the break but Keatley kicked a penalty over the dead ball line. The out-half would however regather himself to help spark the comeback.
Van Graan wasted little time in looking to his bench and the introduction of Simon Zebo and Niall Scannell gave the crowd a much-needed lift.
The hooker's first contribution was to find Murray in another lineout and again, it led to a Munster try, six minutes after the restart.
They patiently worked their way through the phases before puncturing the Leinster defence as Keatley glided over.
The out-half converted his own try to lift the mood in Limerick and the crowd were on their feet again three minutes later when Conway went some way to atoning for his yellow card with his own moment of magic.
Weaving his way inside Larmour and then outside Daly, Conway's brilliant diving finish in the corner gave Munster real hope of completing what would have been a remarkable comeback.
Keatley bisected the posts with the touchline conversion to further support the hopefulness in the air, until Leinster ruthlessly seized the momentum back into their grasp.
With Munster pounding away at the blue wall, Leavy arched his back over the grounded Reds' player and forced him to hold onto the ball.
The flanker celebrated as if it had just won Leinster the game but that wasn't confirmed until Larmour stepped up and showcased his class.
Collecting Keatley's high ball, the former Ireland U-20 star backed himself, just as he did in the Kingspan Stadium at the start of November, and ran 60 metres to score.
Larmour roared passed Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell and Keatley, while Zebo was unable to catch him in the sprint finish. Byrne's conversion took his tally to 12 points with the boot via the upright.
Munster did have the final say when Conway got over for his second try late on, against his home province, as Van Graan's men salvaged a try-scoring bonus point.
The victory means that Leinster complete the double over Munster this season and reiterate where exactly the balance of power lies in Irish rugby right now.
Munster - A Conway; D Sweetnam (S Zebo 46), S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton; I Keatley (J Hanrahan 71), C Murray (D Williams 75); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 61), K O'Byrne (N Scannell 46), S Archer (J Ryan 61); J Kleyn, B Holland (D O'Shea 75); P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell (J O'Donoghue 61), CJ Stander.
Leinster - J Larmour; B Daly (N Reid 58), R O'Loughlin, R Henshaw, J Lowe; R Byrne (C Marsh 77), J Gibson-Park (N McCarthy 75); J McGrath (capt) (E Byrne h-t), J Tracy (R Strauss 66-77), M Bent (T Furlong 47); D Toner, J Ryan (M Kearney 47); J Murphy (J van der Flier 66), D Leavy, J Conan.
ref - N Owens (Wales)