All too comfortable as Blues cruise past misfiring Munster
Leinster 24 Munster 9
This didn’t have the feel of a game where one side were 15 points better than the other but neither was there much doubt in the second half about who would win.
Consider the following sequence in the third quarter when Leinster’s lead was 10 points and Munster at last had some momentum: Joey Carbery knocks a penalty to touch and what looks like a well-set maul actually delivers nothing, so they play around the corner a bit and Stephen Archer loses the ball on the carry. Never mind, they come again but this time Dave Kilcoyne gets stripped by Andrew Porter. And from that scrum Leinster win a penalty.
Pretty much back-to-back, that would be enough to convince you if you were on the wrong end that it wasn’t going to be your day. So yet again Munster lose a big game to the team they would like to beat most. Leinster will get themselves up again for the last game of the season on Saturday: the Guinness Pro14 final against Glasgow in Celtic Park. They came into the season as double champions. They will settle for leaving it with a single title, but will hardly have Devin Toner who went off with a knee injury.
For Munster, empty-handed is a depressingly familiar state for them. They didn’t do a lot wrong here but neither did they do enough right. Not for the first time they looked most fluid when the game was gone and they were attacking from deep. By then Leinster were standing off them and waiting for the final whistle.
Significantly, the game had two clear contenders for man of the match — both of them in blue. Josh van der Flier won it by a short head with a display that matched effect with energy. Given that he has been out for the guts of three months, it was a phenomenal performance.
“I thought he was going to be gone for the rest of the season so to get himself back and in such good shape is a credit to him,” Leinster coach Leo Cullen said. “In terms of being a role model for other players to look to and how to manage yourself he does an amazing job. I was delighted to see him go so well today.”
Interestingly, Van der Flier was streets ahead of his opposite number, CJ Stander. In truth, Stander is gradually working his way towards his best position: number six.
As for James Lowe, he closed the show with a try in the corner, to round off another 80 minutes where he had a massive influence. Well, 70 minutes given he spent 10 in the bin after deliberately blocking down an attacking pass in the Leinster 22 in the first half. Back in the day there was a corner of the old Athletic Park in Wellington known as Bernie’s Corner, to salute local winger Bernie Fraser, an All Black, who was drawn to it to score tries. Lowe will get his own patch of land in the RDS.
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It was a good portent for the home side that they managed to score three points and concede none while Lowe was in the bin. Carbery knocked over a penalty to punish Lowe and make it 6-3 for Munster, but just before the wing returned Ross Byrne was knocking over his second penalty. That was on 33 minutes and Munster would never get ahead again.
Another positive sign for Leinster came with Byrne picking up three more points on the last play of the half. “It was something we didn’t manage last week,” Cullen said ruefully.
It got even better in the opening minutes of the second half when Leinster opened up the red wall for Seán Cronin to scuttle through the gap, and with good front-foot ball coming their way Niall Scannell was carded for offside. He complained to referee Mike Adamson but knew he hadn’t a leg to stand on. So Ross Byrne picked off another three and 12-6 against 14 men confirmed a productive period for Leinster.
Credit to Munster, they realised they had to change something on the scoreboard and Carbery took three points off a penalty conceded by Scott Fardy. But when Cronin got over for a try on 56 minutes, it effectively killed the game. Leinster took their opponents from one side to the other and caught them very narrow on the way back. It didn’t look ideal that Leinster’s extra men comprised their entire front-row, but first Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong combined for Cronin to step off his right foot and accelerate to the line and score. Ross Byrne added the extras to make it 19-9, and a 10-point lead in what had been a very close contest to that point was some comfort.
Thereafter it was handy enough for the home side. As Byrne was adding the extras to Lowe’s try, Johnny Sexton was coming off the bench for him, and he guided the ship home. Leinster wanted to keep him in the best nick possible for the final, and had the luxury of being able to bring him on when the main business of the day had been concluded.
Scorers — Leinster: R Byrne 4 pens, con; Cronin, Lowe tries. Munster: Carbery 3 pens.
Leinster: J Larmour; D Kearney, G Ringrose, R Henshaw (HIA R O’Loughlin 30-38; 80), J Lowe (yc 22-32); R Byrne (J Sexton 57), L McGrath (N McCarthy 71); C Healy (E Byrne 62), S Cronin (B Byrne 62), T Furlong (A Porter 62), D Toner (S Fardy 38), J Ryan, R Ruddock, J Conan, J van der Flier (M Deegan 77)
Munster: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell (D Goggin 68), K Earls; J Carbery (JJ Hanrahan 72), C Murray (A Mathewson 68); D Kilcoyne (L O’Connor 70), N Scannell (yc 45-55; K O’Byrne 79), J Ryan (S Archer 58), J Kleyn (F Wycherley 58), T Beirne, P O’Mahony (capt), A Botha (J O’Donoghue 58), CJ Stander
Referee: M Adamson (Scotland)