Tuesday 20 August 2019

Christmas bonus sees Munster take control

Erasmus joy as rampant Reds lead Pro12 at halfway stage

Leinster’s Zane Kirchner lines up to tackle Munster’s Simon Zebo. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster’s Zane Kirchner lines up to tackle Munster’s Simon Zebo. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Leinster will think twice before sending such a weakened team to Thomond Park next season, after Rassie Erasmus' men cemented their place on top of the Guinness Pro12 with a comprehensive victory.

Munster 29 Leinster 17

These Christmas interprovincials have been diluted by the IRFU's player management scheme and the writing was on the wall for Leo Cullen and his men when they chose to rest the core of their pack for the south-west journey.

Francis Saili salutes the Munster supporters after making his return from injury. Photo: Sportsfile
Francis Saili salutes the Munster supporters after making his return from injury. Photo: Sportsfile

Munster, as home sides are wont to do, named a formidable team and reaped the reward, finishing 2016 unbeaten at their restored Limerick fortress to sit five points clear on top of the table.

The Reds will have to juggle their own pack for their away trip to Connacht on New Year's Eve, with Leinster set to restore some of their big names for their home game against Ulster.

However, they returned to Dublin last night chastened by the experience of a defeat that was heavier than the scoreboard suggests.

Although Tadhg Furlong was outstanding, too many of the internationals Cullen did pick were overshadowed by their opposite numbers: Cian Healy was ill-disciplined at important stages; Rhys Ruddock was overpowered and Robbie Henshaw was left wondering why he wasn't allowed a night off like everyone else.

A tribute to the late Anthony ‘Alex’ Foley on the boots of Zebo. Photo: Sportsfile
A tribute to the late Anthony ‘Alex’ Foley on the boots of Zebo. Photo: Sportsfile

Up against them was a Munster side determined to bounce back from their defeat to Leicester Tigers and intent on ending a recent run of three successive losses to Leinster.

Cullen refused to use player management as an excuse, stating he fully believed his side could win and reiterating that his starting pack contained seven internationals.

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Erasmus didn't believe it was a major factor either.

"If you've got seven internationals in your pack, then there's not that much difference between your first and second-choice teams," he said.

"When you've got 10 or 11 players on national contracts, you've the money to buy back-up players who are just as good. That's where we as a Munster group are as a squad, where we are in a position to rotate and rest.

"To win against a team like Leinster, who beat us convincingly when we played there (in Dublin) - they were on a run of consecutive winning games and they would have been high on confidence and we had to bounce back from a close loss last week.

"Trying to keep momentum is sometimes a tough thing, but it almost felt like a Test match.

"I don't know if other teams are used to that, but for me it was a really intense match. I'm glad the boys stuck out there and got the four tries at the end."

The home side started well and although Leinster managed to get over the line first through Zane Kirchner, it appeared to be only a matter of time before the tide turned, as the Red side hogged the ball and spent all of their time in Leinster territory.

Kirchner's try was a well-worked score off a solid scrum, as Jack Conan peeled off to feed Jamison Gibson-Park. He combined with Ross Byrne, who picked out the onrushing South African and he handed CJ Stander off to put the visiting side in front.

A Tommy O'Donnell-forced penalty handed Munster a chance to pull a penalty back, but Peter O'Mahony signalled his team's intent by ordering that the ball be kicked to touch.

While the maul came up short, the home side got their reward as Conor Murray skipped two to Simon Zebo and he stayed strong in Barry Daly and Jamison Gibson-Park's combined grip to touch down.

Tyler Bleyendaal converted from the touchline, before a Jean Kleyn neck-roll afforded Isa Nacewa the opportunity to put his side back in front from the tee and he made no mistake.

Despite having just 25pc of the ball, Leinster looked like they were going in level at the break, but they couldn't hold out on the final assault of 22 patient phases in a relentless attack; Bleyendaal skipped Darren Sweetnam with a crisp pass and Ronan O'Mahony scored.

Doubt

The New Zealander converted and, although Sweetnam didn't return after Kirchner's off-the-ball tackle, the home side kicked on after half-time and O'Donnell rose above the struggling Daly to put the result beyond doubt.

Again Bleyendaal nailed the kick, before the Munster maul earned the bonus point try with Stander - again named Man of the Match - coming up trumps with 25 minutes remaining.

Leinster pulled a try back through Richardt Strauss, but it was far too little, far too late.

"We had seven internationals in that pack, and young guys that we really wanted to see how some of them handle the atmosphere down here," Cullen said.

"For most of that first-half I thought we were well and truly in the game. If we got a bit more quality ball we certainly would make life a hell of a lot easier for ourselves.

"Munster have been in great form here, in particular, this season. It's always a tough place to come.

"The crowd were in full swing today. Our guys battled well to the very end, but we gave away that forward pass. We weren't quite patient enough and it was disappointing that we didn't get anything from the game and Munster get five points. It is definitely part of the learning for a number of our guys.

"Munster are playing inspired in the right areas of the field, bringing that power game.

"It's very effective once they get a roll on. It's tough to stop, but we gave them that much ball it certainly makes life a hell of a lot easier for them."

Munster - S Zebo; D Sweetnam (A Conway h-t), J Taute (F Saili 63), R Scannell, R O'Mahony; T Bleyendaal, C Murray (D Williams 70-76, 78); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 16 - 19 HIA), N Scannell (R Marshall 61), J Ryan (D Kilcoyne 62); J Kleyn (B Holland 70), D Ryan; P O'Mahony (capt) (J O'Donoghue 66), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander.
Leinster - Z Kirchner; I Nacewa (capt), R O'Loughlin, R Henshaw, B Daly (N Reid 55); R Byrne (T Daly 70), J Gibson-Park; C Healy (P Dooley 62), J Tracy (R Strauss 62), T Furlong (M Bent 63); R Molony, M McCarthy (I Nagle 52) (R Ruddock 70 HIA) ; R Ruddock (D Ryan 65), D Leavy, J Conan.
Ref - N Owens (Wales)

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