Munster's season ends at the RDS once again as Cronin and Lowe send Leinster into Pro14 final
Leinster 24 Munster 9
Leinster may not be the top dogs in Europe anymore, but today's emphatic win over Munster was a reminder of their pre-eminence on this island.
It sets them up for back-to-back Guinness PRO14 titles at Celtic Park next weekend but, after home favourites Glasgow Warriors put 50 points on Ulster last night, they'll know they have a tough task on their hands, but this was a reminder of the champions' calibre.
Unlike Leinster who had this fixture to focus their minds after losing to Saracens in Newcastle last week, Munster now have a whole summer to contemplate yet another semi-final defeat.
A year ago they came within a point of winning this fixture at the RDS, but this time around they were three scores off their rivals.
Twelve months on, their season ends with four losses in both competitions and, with coaches Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones leaving, a summer of turbulence awaits.
Their performance laid bare the short-comings that have afflicted them against the best teams all season and the gulf between these sides could be summed up in how they dealt with the 10 minutes in either half when referee Mike Adamson issued yellow cards.
Munster couldn't make their man-advantage pay when James Lowe was off the field during the first 40, Leinster were ruthless when Niall Scannell was harshly binned. When he returned, the game was gone.
Munster were committed but inaccurate, physical but ill-disciplined and time and time again they failed to protect the ball in contact. Against the best teams, their attack is simply not good enough to get them the points they need.
Leinster won't be worrying about that as they march on to Glasgow with Josh van der Flier back to full health and producing a stunning performance that will have Seán O'Brien worrying about getting back in next weekend as the openside won the man of the match award.
They weren't perfect, but they did more than enough to win the game with their prolific hooker Sean Cronin scoring the all-important try and James Lowe adding another in injury time to rub salt in Munster's wounds.
The game started with a series of monstrous collisions and continued in that vein.
Openings were few and far between and it was the kickers who owned the scoreboard thanks to the stifling defences.
Ross Byrne opened the scoring after three minutes when referee Mike Adamson punished Conor Murray for a high tackle, but Joey Carbery cancelled that score out almost immediately when Robbie Henshaw failed to roll away after tackling Chris Farrell.
Munster edged the possession and territory during a closely fought first-half, but they paid the price for not protecting the ball on a number of occasions.
Leinster's lineout looked a little wobbly, while the red scrum was winning penalties but Munster did not get enough from their visits to the home side's half with Robbie Henshaw's breakdown steal the first of a couple of big moments from the home team.
It wasn't all one-way traffic and Munster defended well after Garry Ringrose's initial break, with Mike Haley denying James Lowe with a superb tackle on the edge of the '22.
Peter O'Mahony stole the ball, but Leinster forced him into touch and the visitors had to be alert when Sean Cronin worked a neat move at the front of the lineout, with Jean Kleyn barreling Josh van der Flier into touch as he headed for the line.
It was nip and tuck without the end product and Munster were handed a real opening 24 minutes in when Tadhg Beirne made a storming break up the middle and, when Munster looked to move the ball wide, Lowe knocked John Ryan's pass on. Adamson had a look at the replays and with a four-man overlap outside the Ireland prop, he decided the issue the New Zealander a yellow card.
Carbery kicked the penalty, but to the frustration of the away fans that was the only points they got with the extra man as Leinster defended well despite conceding a scrum penalty with van der Flier out on the wing.
Munster will rue their execution during the period and, just as Lowe prepared to come on, Byrne levelled the game after CJ Stander strayed offside.
Leinster lost Devin Toner to a leg injury towards the end of an increasingly scrappy half, but they did manage to go in in front as Cian Healy won a brilliant breakdown penalty in his own '22.
Byrne kicked for position and Jordan Larmour made a big break out of nothing and, when the scrambling Conor Murray was penalised for not rolling away, the out-half made it 9-6 in the seventh minute of injury time.
The game turned once again four minutes into the second-half. First, O'Mahony conceded a penalty for breaking too early from a scrum in Leinster territory and when Jack Conan made a hard carry off the lineout, Luke McGrath switched blind where Sean Cronin made a scorching break past Niall Scannell.
Mike Haley stopped his march, but on the next phase the retreating Scannell was caught offside by the clever McGrath and Adamson somewhat harshly sent him to the sin-bin.
Byrne made it 12-6 and Munster let a golden chance to apply pressure slip when Carbery's brilliant kick to touch was undone by ill-discipline from Beirne who jumped across the lineout.
O'Mahony won the ball back on the edge of the '22 and a couple of hard carries later Scott Fardy was penalised for hands in the ruck and Carbery narrowed the gap.
But unlike Munster in the first-half, Leinster finally made their man-advantage pay as they produced an excellent attack when playing with advantage off a lineout maul on half-way.
Byrne moved the ball left where Lowe made a decent surge, before Conan made big gains with another carry and Dave Kearney drove into the '22. Byrne again demanded the ball and went right where the front-row combined with Healy feeding Tadhg Furlong who found Cronin. The hooker stepped inside the cover to score and Byrne converted before making way for Johnny Sexton.
Sexton threw himself into the fray, surging through a gap and into the Munster '22 before taking on some physical work and then working a switch with Larmour but the move ultimately came to nothing as Henshaw knocked on.
Ten points down and with their season on the line, the last thing Munster needed was rain but they were forced to chase the game with a wet ball as they moved into the final quarter.
A big chance came and went when Rory Scannell blocked Ringrose's kick but couldn't complete the pick-up, but his pack won a scrum penalty and Carbery kicked for position.
Again, they couldn't make it pay as the maul was stopped in its tracks and Stephen Archer spilled the ball in contact as Fardy came away with the ball before the next chance came and went as Dave Kilcoyne lost the ball in contact.
That was as close as they came and the last 10 minutes passed without much incident barring Lowe's running battle with Andrew Conway.
The Kiwi winger had the last laugh, scorching past Mike Haley in the left-hand corner to close things out, while Sexton missed his conversion, the fans in blue went home happy regardless.
LEINSTER – J Larmour; D Kearney, G Ringrose, R Henshaw (R O'Loughlin 32-40 HIA, 79), J Lowe; R Byrne (J Sexton 57), L McGrath (N McCarthy 71); C Healy (E Byrne 62), S Cronin (B Byrne 62), T Furlong (A Porter 62); D Toner (S Fardy 40), J Ryan; R Ruddock, J van der Flier (M Deegan 77), J Conan.
MUNSTER - - M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell (D Goggin 68), K Earls; J Carbery (JJ Hanrahan 72), C Murray (A Mathewson 68); D Kilcoyne (L O'Connor 70), N Scannell (K O'Byrne 77), J Ryan (S Archer 57); J Kleyn (F Wycherly 57), T Beirne; P O'Mahony (capt), CJ Stander, A Botha (J O'Donoghue 57).
Ref: M Adamson (Scotland)