Leinster pay the price for team selection as Munster ensure they go through 2016 unbeaten at Thomond
Fireworks accompanied Munster and Leinster onto the pitch and although it took 18 minutes for a enthralling contest to ignite, it was Munster who in the end ran out comfortable winners to ensure that they went through 2016 unbeaten at Thomond Park.
The win also means that Munster remain top of the PRO12 table as they bounced back from last week’s defeat in Welford Road in stunning fashion.
This time last year, it was Leinster who earned the bragging rights in Limerick but Munster haven’t been beaten at Thomond Park since then.
Despite falling behind early on, it was a game that Munster never looked like losing and to claim a bonus point after just 56 minutes typified their clinical display.
Leinster made 10 changes from the side who destroyed Northampton last time out and they paid the price as they came up against a fully locked and loaded Munster side who put three straight defeats to their arch-rivals behind them.
At times it was fractured and did lack the kind of accuracy you would expect from both teams but it was full-blooded for the entire 80 minutes with Tadhg Furlong leading the way with several bone-shuddering hits.
The Leinster players went through their warm-up whilst wearing red t-shirts with AF on the front and the number eight on the back. It was a classy touch on what was Leinster’s first visit to Limerick since Anthony Foley’s passing.
International Rugby Newsletter
All sentiment was however put to one side when Nigel Owens blew his whistle and even the referee showed his Christmas spirit by keeping the yellow card in his pocket when on another evening, players from both sides might have spent 10 minutes in the bin.
Munster dominated the early exchanges but it was Leinster who hit the front against the run of play. After soaking up 16 minutes of pressure, on their first visit to the hosts’ 22, they came away with the opening try.
Donnacha Ryan had again stolen a James Tracy throw-in but the Ireland second-row knocked the ball on which handed possession back to Leinster.
Jack Conan controlled the ball at the base of the resulting scrum and found Jamison Gibson-Park who had peeled off the outside. The scrum-half passed to Ross Byrne who played the killer pass for Zane Kirchner to skip beyond a couple of Munster defenders.
Isa Nacewa’s conversion put the visitors into a 7-0 lead but it took Munster just four minutes to respond.
Gibson-Park was pinged for holding on and when Tyler Bleyendaal sent the ball into the corner, Munster sensed blood.
Leinster managed to halt the rolling maul but Munster stayed patient and eventually Conor Murray found Simon Zebo who kept his width on the right flank and finished exquisitely. Bleyendaal needed the help of the cross-bar to level the game with the conversion.
Jean Kleyn was lucky not to be shown a yellow card for a neck roll on Furlong and after Munster had initially been awarded a penalty for a Cian Healy infringement, Owens correctly revered the decision after checking the incident with his TMO.
T’is the season to be handing out gifts and Leinster gleefully accepted this one as Nacewa kicked his side back into a 10-7 lead.
Furlong continued to set the tone in defence as Tommy O’Donnell became his latest victim in midfield but when Healy was penalised again with two minutes to go until the break, Munster went for the corner.
Leinster’s defence was again well marshalled with Munster struggling to find a way through but 22 phases later, the pressure eventually told.
The Munster pack battered away around the fringes and when Bleyendaal assumed control of the situation, his sumptuous pass put Ronan O’Mahony over in the corner for his fifth try of the season.
Darren Sweetnam was smashed by Kirchner without the ball and as a result was forced off injured. Owens had earlier left Kleyn away with a neck roll and Barry Daly with a high tackle and he was again very lenient.
Bleyendaal bisected the posts when the conversion was eventually taken as Munster went into the break 14-10 to the good.
The momentum was very much with the home side but the half time break didn’t disrupt them as 10 minutes after the restart they struck again.
Murray was again the orchestrator as his cross-field kick was spilled by Daly and O’Donnell was the latest to accept a Christmas gift.
Bleyendaal who was excellent throughout, again sent the touchline conversion sailing through the posts as Munster put some daylight between them and Leinster.
Munster’s bonus point was wrapped up after 16 blistering second half minutes when the home side’s maul pummelled Leinster and marched them back at a rate of knots.
Man of the match CJ Stander was the one credited with the score after the pack powered their way over the whitewash and although Bleyendaal missed the conversion, attentions had already turned to the second installment of the festive inter-pro derbies on New Year’s Eve.
Bleyendaal made amends for his wayward conversion with a 62nd minute penalty to push Munster into a 29-10 lead.
The evening got even better for Rassie Erasmus as he welcomed back All Black Francis Saili who featured for the first time under the South African director of rugby after a lengthy spell out with a shoulder injury.
Richardt Strauss managed to put some respectability on the scoreline with a consolation try that Nacewa converted late on, but this had long been a game that belonged to Munster.
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); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 15-19, 62), N Scannell (R Marshall 62), J Ryan (S Archer 62); J Kleyn (B Holland 69), 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 69), J Gibson-Park; C Healy (P Dooley 62), J Tracy (R Strauss 62), T Furlong (M Bent 62); R Molony, M McCarthy (I Nagle 52) (R Ruddock 69); R Ruddock (D Ryan 66), D Leavy, J Conan.
Ref - N Owens (WRU)