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Munster hold firm in bruising battle with Leinster

Munster 26 Leinster 17

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James Lowe collides with airborne Andrew Conway during last night’s Guinness PRO14 match in Thomond Park in an incident which led to the Leinster player being shown a red card. Photo: Sportsfile

James Lowe collides with airborne Andrew Conway during last night’s Guinness PRO14 match in Thomond Park in an incident which led to the Leinster player being shown a red card. Photo: Sportsfile

James Lowe collides with airborne Andrew Conway during last night’s Guinness PRO14 match in Thomond Park in an incident which led to the Leinster player being shown a red card. Photo: Sportsfile

Full house; full-on; and from early in the piece it was apparent that neither side would get through the 80 minutes with a full complement of players. Indeed by the break we had said goodbye to three men in blue, on yellow/red; and one man in red on a stretcher.

In that little caravan Chris Cloete was clearly the unluckiest, having been floored by a shoulder charge into a ruck from Tadhg Furlong who moved Luke McGrath out of the way so he could reach his target. In the circumstances Furlong was lucky to see yellow and not red. Earlier in the half, Cian Healy got a yellow for a high tackle on Conor Murray - at the rate the high shots had been building up there was no way he would survive. Fair enough.

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Leinster's Jordan Larmour is tackled by Munster's Conor Murray. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster's Jordan Larmour is tackled by Munster's Conor Murray. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster's Jordan Larmour is tackled by Munster's Conor Murray. Photo: Sportsfile

And then there was James Lowe. He was sent off on 32 minutes for clattering into Andrew Conway who was in the air. Conway was first off the ground and had all the rights. Lowe's contact wasn't in the same class as that of Robert Baloucoune in Kingspan last weekend - interestingly Sean Gallagher, who somehow reckoned it was a good idea to leave the Ulster player off with only 10 minutes that night, was running the line here, but thankfully not involved in the decision-making. So long Lowe.

Adding to the intrigue, the referee was Frank Murphy. There had been some talk pre-match of the wisdom of this appointment given his connections to Munster. Murphy did a fine job in clearly very difficult circumstances.

You can imagine the conversation with his colleagues at the break. Would we get another 40 minutes of occasionally very good rugby wrapped around lots of off-the-ball stuff with loads of verbals? Our pick was the spat between Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery midway through the first half. The younger man looked shocked at the degree to which his elder had mislaid the plot. Sexton had been involved in a run-in with Fineen Wycherley before the game had reached boiling point. Then Carbery loaded up himself and fired back at the man he'll be covering for in the Six Nations. Good entertainment, you'd have to say.

So before we got to half-time the battle lines had been clearly redrawn in Munster's favour. They were 13-3 ahead at that point against a side who had played virtually the last eight minutes of the half with 13 and could never have more than 14 for all of the second half.

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Munster's Joey Carbery throws the ball ahead of Leinster's Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

Munster's Joey Carbery throws the ball ahead of Leinster's Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

Munster's Joey Carbery throws the ball ahead of Leinster's Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

The only try of the game had come from an 11-man lineout maul - it became 12 when Keith Earls joined in - finished by Cloete on 14 minutes. By the time we had the game's second try, it was early in the second half when Leinster had started to make things interesting.

The consistency of Carbery off the tee - he would finish with five from five attempts - on the back of their numerical advantage suggested Munster would play no wider than 10 metres off the breakdown and frequently go back blind to frustrate their opponents. Man of the match Tadhg Beirne was perfectly suited to it but then they seemed to get caught somewhere between the two.

When Carbery knocked over another penalty, four minutes into the second period, for 16-3, it was hard to see the Blues getting out of that hole. But they defended badly against a side good enough to play possession rugby at pace without exposing further the fact that they were down a man. They worked their way into scoring territory and while Garry Ringrose had been denied initially, they got over from the subsequent pressure through James Tracy. At 16-10, trickles of sweat began running down the spine of the home supporters, even moreso when their team used the blindside well to get into position only to blow the try opportunity it created.

Two lineout losses in a row for Leinster in good positions undermined their chance of creating what would have been an historic win. Carbery eased home heart-rates with a fine strike on 65 minutes, and with Leinster getting a bit looser in their pursuit of the game, Earls picked off a pass from replacement Ciarán Frawley to make the game safe with a try from 80 metres.

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Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile

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Leinster closed the show with a try from Max Deegan but by then the Brave and the Faithful were planning a long night ahead. Munster needed this badly, but they went the long way around getting it.

Scorers - Munster: C Cloete, K Earls tries; J Carbery 4 pens, con; T Bleyendaal con. Leinster: J Tracy, M Deegan tries; J Sexton pen, con; C Frawley con.

Munster: M Haley; A Conway, D Goggin (D Sweetnam 65), R Scannell, K Earls; J Carbery (T Bleyendaal 71), C Murray (A Mathewson 74); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman 71), N Scannell (K O'Byrne 76), J Ryan (S Archer 59), J Kleyn (B Holland 65), T Beirne, F Wycherley, CJ Stander (capt), C Cloete (A Botha 30).

Leinster: J Larmour; R O'Loughlin, G Ringrose (C O'Brien 69), N Reid, J Lowe (rc 32); J Sexton (capt) (C Frawley 60), L McGrath (H O'Sullivan 74) C Healy (yc 17-27)(P Dooley 60), J Tracy (B Byrne 60), T Furlong (yc 30-40; M Bent 69), S Fardy, J Ryan, R Ruddock (M Bent 36-40 temp front row; M Deegan 67), J Conan, J van der Flier.

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Leinster's James Lowe gets a red card from referee Frank Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster's James Lowe gets a red card from referee Frank Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster's James Lowe gets a red card from referee Frank Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile

Referee: F Murphy (IRFU)


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