Sunday 16 December 2018

Electrifying Lowe brace earns Leinster derby bragging rights

Leinster 30 Munster 22

Leinster’s James Lowe touches down for his side’s third try despite the tackle of Jean Kleyn of Munster. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Leinster’s James Lowe touches down for his side’s third try despite the tackle of Jean Kleyn of Munster. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

On a night of much frustration for Munster, surely its peak was reached in the restart after Alby Mathewson's try on 67 minutes. The conversion from Joey Carbery had left just five points between the teams, representing a bonus point at least - one they had worked very hard for, having been 27-12 adrift five minutes into the second half. So, gather the restart and set about getting the territory that might let them win a game where they had never been ahead.

Then Stephen Archer went a country mile out of his way to obstruct Fergus McFadden as the wing was chasing the drop-off to restart the game. Penalty Leinster. Another fine kick from Ross Byrne - 100 per cent off the tee - and that was the end of Munster's bonus point. You hope it doesn't come back to haunt them when the sums are being done at the tail-end of the campaign.

James Lowe of Leinster scores his side's second try despite the tackle of CJ Stander, left, Niall Scannell, centre, and Alby Mathewson of Munster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
James Lowe of Leinster scores his side's second try despite the tackle of CJ Stander, left, Niall Scannell, centre, and Alby Mathewson of Munster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"It's not ideal," captain Peter O'Mahony said, with some understatement. "But the same player was coming off the back of penalty try after five or six scrums. These things happen in the white heat of the game. These are mistakes that I certainly won't be commenting on or giving out about because I've been on the wrong end of them plenty of times myself."

An eight-point gap at the end of six-try game in front of a crowd of 50,120. And on a lovely autumn evening. What could possibly be wrong with that? Well, a bit more ball in play would have been good. We don't have stats to illustrate this point but it felt like there was a huge amount of hanging around as scrums were reset and clips of play reviewed.

With all the interruption, we got no flow and it felt like a good proportion of the crowd had disengaged. You get that sometimes in this stadium where the attractions of beer and burgers wins out over what's going on out on the pitch.

And what was going on was another episode in Leinster's domination of this relationship. They seemed to get most of the close calls, most notably a deliberate knock-on decision against Sammy Arnold as he tackled Robbie Henshaw early in the second half. In the process, Keith Earls was called back on an 80-metre sprint to score at the far end.

Joey Carbery of Munster is tackled by Ross Byrne of Leinster. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Joey Carbery of Munster is tackled by Ross Byrne of Leinster. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Typically, from the penalty, Leinster set up camp in the Munster 22 and the brilliant James Lowe got over for his second try, riding a tackle from Jean Kleyn in the process - no mean feat that. So Leinster went 27-12 in front when they could easily have been looking at a scoreline of 20-17. In any case, Lowe was awesome and central to Leinster's three tries.

"Yeah, he's a handful," Leo Cullen said afterwards. "He's very, very strong in contact and has that big left boot as well. He's gone well over the last few weeks. He's into everything and starting to become very passionate about the team which is what you want."

You suspect what he wants most of all is to start against Wasps in the Champions Cup on Friday night. With Jamison Gibson-Park and Scott Fardy on the premises however - and Leinster only allowed use two of that trio in a European match-day squad - it's not straightforward.

Neither was this contest. At 14-0 to the home team after 15 minutes, a man within earshot declared the game to be over. Not quite. But there was enough about Leinster's opening two tries to suggest that there was no one in red who had the game-changing ability of Lowe.

His first few touches were about reinforcing what a prodigious left boot he has. Then when got the opportunity to run and step he was devastating. So you could forgive Keith Earls the early tackle that cost his team a penalty try on 11 minutes, and 10 minutes in the bin for himself. The combination between Dan Leavy, Gibson-Park and Lowe to create the pressure was first class.

Four minutes later, Lowe got over himself, in the same corner. Again the scrumhalf was involved and his hard, flat pass to find Lowe on the wing was sublime. Lowe then bounced Alby Mathewson and took two other men in red over with him in the corner.

Munster's comeback saved the game, with great patience at a maul getting Tadhg Beirne over on 20 minutes and then CJ Stander doing very well to score after good work by Dan Goggin who was matching Lowe in the passion stakes.

After the break, Munster had to battle to stay afloat after Lowe got over on 45 minutes and Mathewson's try, after a long series of scrum penalties in Munster's favour under the sticks, opened the door again. They closed it themselves.

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