Saturday 19 October 2019

Lowe hits high notes to help Leinster repel Munster rally

Leinster 16 Munster 15

Man of the match James Lowe offloads to his Leinster team-mate Jack Conan who goes over to score a try during yesterday’s victory over Munster at the RDS. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Man of the match James Lowe offloads to his Leinster team-mate Jack Conan who goes over to score a try during yesterday’s victory over Munster at the RDS. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

What a great finish to a very good game. Had Munster managed to complete what was an unlikely comeback - Joey Carbery's penalty left them 16-8 down with four minutes to go - it would have been thoroughly deserved for they brought a huge amount to this contest.

With an 18,930 capacity at the RDS, courtesy of the extra seating installed last week, and a glorious afternoon for rugby, all concerned got their money's worth.

In the end it was a slap-down of a marvellous Munster attack by man of the match James Lowe that closed the show and put Leinster into Saturday's Guinness Pro14 final at the Aviva. And that too was appropriate for a player who had to sit out last weekend's Champions Cup triumph in Bilbao. Through no fault of his own, Lowe hasn't played as much rugby as he wanted to in blue, but when he gets the chance he rarely disappoints. He was brilliant yesterday, and only a fine tackle in the first half by Sammy Arnold prevented him getting on the score-sheet.

It would have been hard for Leinster to stomach if they had been caught on the last play but then it had been hard for Munster to swallow a decision on 56 minutes that wasn't easy to fathom. Trailing 13-8, they set up a good chance in Leinster's right corner with Simon Zebo chasing his own kick ahead. Joey Carbery went down on the loose ball and knocked it forward where it was picked up from an offside position by the retreating Jordan Larmour. Play on, said referee Stuart Berry. To compound it, Munster were penalised at the resulting ruck to complete Leinster's escape.

It was a huge call, and had you been on the wrong end of it the least you would be is aggrieved. When we asked Peter O'Mahony directly about it, he chose not to wade in.

It wasn't a game with the lowest error count you've ever seen but it had lots to recommend it. Not least a really good forward battle that Munster dominated for a good while, yet at the end they were conceding penalties at the scrum - an area where earlier they had the upper hand. That's what can happen with all the moving parts between replacements, fatigue and the variable that is the match officials.

Munster's Jean Kleyn (right) with Leinster's Scott Fardy. Photo: Donall Farmer/PA Wire
Munster's Jean Kleyn (right) with Leinster's Scott Fardy. Photo: Donall Farmer/PA Wire

Overall, Leinster managed their affairs better, conceding just six penalties to Munster's 14. When you have more of the ball and the territory as Munster had - 56 per cent and 59 per cent respectively - and you concede more than twice as many penalties as your opponents, then something is wrong.

"There were inaccuracies there certainly which luckily for us are things we can fix," Peter O'Mahony said afterwards. "But if we had come out and rolled over that would have been a different story. That's something you can't fix and we fought to the end. You're eight points down and go back up and score a try under the posts and give yourselves another shot to win the game. It takes a lot of mental strength to do that. But you can't come up here and allow that eight-point gap to develop. It's too big."

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Munster had tried to pick up where Racing left off last week by applying heat to the breakdown - especially challenging the support players/blockers in blue - but it didn't upset the home team to the degree outlined in the game-plan.

And they certainly hadn't budgeted for being 7-0 down inside eight minutes. A huge hit by James Ryan on Jean Kleyn had got Leinster going forward. Thereafter Lowe didn't actually finish it but between bouncing Zebo and offloading twice more he did almost everything else bar carry Jack Conan over the line. They didn't kick on from that start despite having more game-breakers - Garry Ringrose was very good every time he touched the ball - and by half-time were 10-3 ahead after Ross Byrne and JJ Hanrahan had kicked a penalty each.

Leinster's Rhys Ruddock. Photo: Donall Farmer/PA Wire
Leinster's Rhys Ruddock. Photo: Donall Farmer/PA Wire

Given the amount of pressure Leinster had been under for the last 15 minutes of the half, they were well pleased to get off the field with their lead intact. Equally, it was frustrating for Munster that they didn't even close the gap. A sequence that started with a penalty advantage off a scrum was followed by Hanrahan missing a shot a minute later; then another big scrum followed by a 15-metre maul. In the end, with the Reds hammering away at the Leinster line, CJ Stander was held up. And on the rewind Jean Kleyn was binned for a dangerous head charge into a breakdown that saw Rodd Byrne off for a HIA.

Had Byrne's defence radar not picked up the incoming Kleyn he might not have moved his head at all, and we would have had a different story for both players. Losing the South African released the pressure valve on Leinster, but by the time Kleyn came back on the field the home team were no better off.

Indeed Keith Earls had tightened things up five minutes into the second period with a lovely try after brilliant skill by Zebo. How Munster will miss his creativity, best seen when it's numbers even and something special is required.

The next time he was doing something similar was in the endgame.

By then Byrne had put his team 13-8 up, and then Carbery added another with four minutes left to give Leinster a cushion.

Munster hung in there however, and the excellent Gerbrandt Grobler scored a try by the posts, after a referral upstairs, to make Leinster sweat.

The home side bought Max Deegan on for the last couple of minutes and he made two big impacts in that period, the second of which was to force the turnover penalty that won the game. Very efficient, that.

Scorers - Leinster: Conan try, Byrne 2 pens, con; Carbery pen. Munster: Earls, Grobler tries; Hanrahan pen; Keatley con

Leinster: J Carbery; J Larmour, G Ringrose, I Nacewa (R O'Loughlin h-t), J Lowe; R Byrne (HIA - B Daly 36-40), L McGrath (N McCarthy 78); J McGrath (C Healy 47), S Cronin (J Tracy 56), T Furlong (A Porter 56), D Toner, J Ryan, R Ruddock (S Fardy 63), J Conan, J Murphy (M Deegan 80).

Munster: S Zebo; A Conway, S Arnold (D Sweetnam 70), R Scannell, K Earls; JJ Hanrahan (I Keatley h-t), C Murray; J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 54), R Marshall (N Scannell 59), J Ryan (C Parker 74), J Kleyn (yc 36-46), B Holland (G Grobler 51), P O'Mahony (capt), CJ Stander, J O'Donoghue (R Copeland 11).

Referee: S Berry (South Africa)

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