Munster bully Leinster again as Keatley outwits Madigan
Munster 28 Leinster 13
The balance of power in Irish rugby's biggest derby has undoubtedly shifted.
In front of a packed Thomond Park, Munster have found a way to unnerve, unbalance and ultimately beat their old rivals Leinster, and for the second time this season they left regretting not picking up a winning bonus point.
Anthony Foley has gone back to basics, and no one dislikes Munster's primal game more than their old foes from the eastern seaboard.
Put simply, the men in red bullied their opponents despite the fact the visiting team travelled south with more caps in their side and an exciting backline on paper.
Foley dusted off the game-plan that worked so well at the Aviva Stadium in October and it worked even better.
Munster targeted Richardt Strauss' throw and found that Leinster's lineout was a weakened unit in Devin Toner's absence, while they lorded the contact zone again, with Tommy O'Donnell and CJ Stander outstanding, while Billy Holland was a close third.
That gave Ian Keatley the platform from which he could orchestrate the game. He put the forwards in the right places and they repaid him by continually getting over the gain-line.
Up against Ian Madigan, who was making a rare outing in the No 10 jersey, the Munster pivot looked far more comfortable in his surrounds and added a couple of clever breaks and incisive passes to his repertoire.
It would be harsh to judge Madigan on one game and he deserves better from his pack, but the watching Joe Schmidt was given plenty of food for though as he weighs up who to pick at out-half to face Italy in the Six Nations.
"It was probably one of our better performances of the year, we played in the right areas and, although we left some tries out there, we wanted a win," Foley said.
"It was important to show character, to get a win and stop a losing streak. They turned up, it's a big occasion, a sell-out and they all bought into it.
"We've a certain way we want to play, we want to put pressure on Leinster to play in their own half and capitalise on that. We didn't give the ball back to them too easily."
Leinster invited Munster into the game with a sloppy start that saw Zane Kirchner beaten in the air by Andrew Conway and Madigan and Dave Kearney get in a muddle under a Keatley high ball which ended in the winger being bundled into touch.
From the lineout, Kane Douglas hauled down a Munster maul to allow the home fly-half open the scoring, but it was cancelled out by Madigan minutes later after John Ryan was penalised for not rolling away.
That came at the end of some high-tempo play in which Leinster's No 10 was prominent, but it was an all-too-rare glimpse of what they can do over a half Munster largely dominated.
They did so with a familiar tactic that proved so successful the last time these sides met, with forwards going around the corner and hitting Leinster's fringe defence hard.
The blue wall was better staffed around the ruck, but Munster still made yards and when Keatley got his hands on the ball it meant there was room outside, and he and Felix Jones were having some joy in the wide channels.
Nigel Owens appeared to have awarded a kickable penalty when Dominic Ryan failed to roll away after tackling Donncha O'Callaghan, but realising the flanker had been knocked out cold he reduced it to a scrum.
Ryan went off and Munster went for the jugular, with Robin Copeland attacking off the base, Ryan, Duncan Casey and the irrepressible O'Donnell all carrying hard before Stander crashed through Luke Fitzgerald to score despite losing his jersey earlier in the phase.
Keatley missed the conversion, but it didn't knock his confidence as minutes later he had a cut from inside his own half, rounding Tadhg Furlong and racing into Leinster territory where he again found Jones on the switch.
Leinster were scrambling, but managed to force a penalty to get themselves off the hook. They had a go themselves when Kearney chipped cleverly in behind and then was involved off a clever lineout move, but their play was all too lateral until Jones stripped the ball from Darragh Fanning's grasp to ease the pressure.
Madigan was able to close the gap after an utterly dominant scrum effort forced a penalty, but Leinster failed to deal with the restart and Jordi Murphy handed Keatley an opportunity to cancel it out.
His kick sailed over and, although Owens handed Madigan a chance from the kick-off when harshly penalising Paddy Butler - on for the injured Copeland - for carrying on when held.
That meant Munster led by 11-6 at the break and they continued their run to add 10 more points within 15 minutes of the restart, which left Leinster staring down the barrel with 14 men.
They again failed to deal with Munster's repeated pick-and-go, before Denis Hurley freed his hands to play in Pat Howard and, from the quickly recycled ball, Keatley exposed Gordon D'Arcy's decision to shoot up by finding Conway, who powered over.
Playing into the wind, the visitors attempted to get their attacking game going but it was all too flat before Murphy was penalised for holding on.
That meant more defence and further hardship when Fanning gambled on the ball being out and came around the side. He looked in the right, but Owens disagreed and issued a yellow card.
Keatley knocked the resulting kick over and the game felt over. Any doubts were eradicated when Dave O'Callaghan scythed through the defence to cap a fine series of play he started himself with a brilliant offload.
Restored to the full complement, the Blues pulled a try back through Shane Jennings, one of their best player on the night, after a spell of pressure and an excellent Jack Conan off-load, but Munster just dusted themselves down and went again.
Stander thought he had secured a bonus point, only to look up from his celebrations and see Owens' hand in the air back on the halfway line for a lineout infringement by Holland.
That gave the men in blue a late chance for pride, but the Munster line - led by a shirtless BJ Botha - held firm. The win arrests a run of defeats for Foley's men, who head to Connacht on New Year's Day, while Leinster have a long week to stew on their no-show before facing Ulster.
Munster: F Jones (capt) (J Murphy 72); A Conway, P Howard, D Hurley (JJ Hanrahan 58), R O'Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams (N Cronin 77); J Ryan (E Guinazu 65), D Casey (K O'Byrne 66), S Archer (BJ Botha 58); Donncha O'Callaghan, B Holland; CJ Stander, T O'Donnell (Dave O'Callaghan 50), R Copeland (P Butler 26).
Leinster: Z Kirchner; D Fanning (J Gopperth 65), L Fitzgerald, G D'Arcy, D Kearney; I Madigan, I Boss (L McGrath 65); M Bent, R Strauss (A Dundon 72), T Furlong; M McCarthy (T Denton 72), K Douglas; D Ryan (J Murphy 14), S Jennings (capt), J Conan.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).