Leinster's James Lowe the difference as Munster's brave effort falls short in classic derby encounter
Leinster 30 Munster 22
Munster’s miserable relationship with the Aviva Stadium continues after a spirited effort came up short once again.
Even without a host of leading men, Leinster were able to deny their old foes the solace of a losing bonus point with James Lowe dazzling the close-to-capacity crowd with a pair of tries and an all-action display.
The Reds dominated possession and territory, but couldn’t make it count as the hosts raced into an early lead and kept their opponents at arm’s length for the remainder of the game.
With Europe on the horizon for both sides, this was the kind of high intensity work-out they needed.
Munster are yet to win an away game this season as they prepare to visit high-flying Exeter, while Leinster welcome Wasps to the RDS on Friday comfortable in their own skin.
They got ahead early and stayed there.
A pair of fumbles, first by Rob Kearney in Munster territory and the second by Jamison Gibson-Park on his own 5m line, handed the visitors a prime attacking opportunity but after a succession of scrums they coughed up possession to Jack McGrath’s fine poach and let the chance slip. They'd regret it.
After a nervy opening, it was a Munster mistake that gave Leinster their first chance to launch an attack as Keith Earls and Andrew Conway went for the same ball and Lowe pounced.
Joey Carbery put in a superb tackle to deny him, but when the ball swung back the Kiwi’s way he worked a neat pass to put Dan Leavy in behind, he played in Gibson-Park and the pass to Lowe didn’t go to hand because Earls tackled Lowe early.
After consulting the Television Match Official, referee Ben Whitehouse awarded a penalty try to the hosts and sent the winger to the sin-bin.
Leinster took full advantage of the extra man, winning a penalty through their dominant maul before working another opportunity for Lowe who powered his way through Alby Mathewson, Niall Scannell and CJ Stander to score in the corner.
Ross Byrne extended an already commanding lead and, with just 16 minutes on the clock, van Graan’s team were staring down the barrel.
Some poor Leinster discipline handed them another chance to visit the ’22 and at the second attempt the Munster maul got going and Tadhg Beirne peeled off to crash over and score.
Earls returned as Joey Carbery kicked the conversion wide and his team grew into the game on the back of the try, with the out-half pulling the strings well.
Dan Goggin thought he had scored after slipping Gibson-Park’s tackle only for a combination of Lowe, Kearney and Dan Leavy to hold him up over the line.
Munster wouldn’t be deterred and, after a dominant scrum, CJ Stander picked and powered over to make it 14-10.
The referee had to speak to both captains to address an increasingly testy atmosphere but, after a check with TMO Jon Mason to confirm the score, Carbery reduced the gap to two points.
After a period on the back foot, the Blues got their attacking game going through Lowe and Kearney and were rewarded with a penalty when Tommy O’Donnell was penalised for holding on under pressure from Gibson-Park and Byrne sent the penalty over.
Back came Munster, but Beirne spilled the ball after breaking Rhys Ruddock’s tackle deep in the ’22 before a long series of phases came to nothing as Rory O’Loughlin nailed Conway and Stander was penalised for sealing off.
That could have been half-time, but instead Leinster went for one more attack and they got their reward as Munster collapsed the maul and Byrne made it 20-12 at the break.
If they were annoyed at that margin, the visitors would have been fuming minutes after the break when they were on the wrong side of a highly questionable refereeing decision.
Earls thought he was away for a try almost immediately after the break, only to be called back as Whitehouse spotted a deliberate knock-on by Sam Arnold as he tackled Henshaw.
Instead, Leinster went to corner and cranked up the pressure gauge through their forwards until they worked a modicum of space for - who else? – Lowe to power through Jean Kleyn’s tackle to score in the corner.
Byrne nailed the touchline conversion and instead of being a point ahead, Leinster led by 15.
Carbery reduced the gap to 12 after James Tracy went high on Darren Sweetnam and the Reds kept the pressure on, going through a long series of phases before earning a penalty under the posts.
Peter O’Mahony went for the scrum, Andrew Porter dropped it and the skipper called for another. Once again, the set-piece came down on the tighthead side, and when Conway was held up over the line with advantage being played, the decision made itself.
This time the damn broke, Munster got the nudge and Alby Mathewson took full advantage by picking and evading the tacklers to score.
Carbery made it a five point game, but a crazy moment of ill-discipline from Stephen Archer handed Leinster a chance to make it eight and Byrne punished his obvious body-check on Fergus McFadden.
That was that as the visitors never looked like closing the gap.
LEINSTER -- R Kearney; F McFadden (D Kearney 75), R O’Loughlin, R Henshaw, J Lowe; R Byrne (N Reid 71), J Gibson-Park (L McGrath 54); J McGrath (C Healy h-t), J Tracy (S Cronin 56), M Bent (A Porter 48); D Toner, J Ryan (M Kearney 77); R Ruddock (capt), D Leavy, S O’Brien (J van der Flier 63).
MUNSTER – A Conway; D Sweetnam (JJ Hanrahan 71), S Arnold (R Scannell 68), D Goggin, K Earls; J Carbery, A Mathewson (D Williams 75); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 53), N Scannell (K O’Byrne 75), S Archer (C Parker 75); J Kleyn (B Holland 71), T Beirne; P O’Mahony (capt), T O’Donnell (C Cloete 48), CJ Stander.