Watershed win for Munster at Thomond Park as Leinster's discipline goes out the window
A precious Munster win against Leinster that they will feel was a long time coming and one that could well prove to be a major turning point in their season.
14-man Leinster fought until the bitter end, but ultimately having played with a man less for 48 minutes, they ran out of legs, as their four-game winning streak over their arch-rivals came to a shuddering halt.
Prior to this evening, Leinster had only received one yellow card in their 11 PRO14 games this season, but their discipline went out the window in a tempestuous encounter that was littered with flash-points.
James Lowe was shown a first-half red card, while Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy, who was making his 200th appearance for Leinster, each spent 10 minutes in the sin during the opening 40 minutes.
It wasn't until Keith Earls put the result beyond any doubt with a 72nd minute converted try that the majority of the sell out crowd at Thomond Park could sit easily.
Lowe could have had few complaints for his dismissal after he took Andrew Conway out in the air. The Munster winger was lucky to avoid a serious injury, unlike his team-mate Chris Cloete, who was stretchered off in a neck brace just four minutes earlier.
Furlong caught Cloete high at a ruck, and while the home supporters were incensed, referee Frank Murphy judged that there was no intent on the tighthead's part and he brandished a yellow rather than a red card.
Munster were already 7-0 in front by this stage as they rattled the visitors from the off. Johnny Sexton and Fineen Wycherley, who was very impressive, clashed early on, which set the tone for what was to come.
Buoyed by the early momentum, Joey Carbery declined the three points on offer just shy of the quarter-hour mark, and the home side were rewarded for the brave call.
Wycherley claimed the lineout five metres from the Leinster line and when Munster brilliantly set up the powerful rolling maul, the pack bulldozed their way over, with Cloete credited with the score.
Carbery converted, before Healy spent 10 minutes in the bin for a high tackle on Conor Murray. It would soon go from bad to worse for Leo Cullen's men.
Sexton clashed with Carbery off the ball and he then put Leinster on the board with 22nd minute penalty after Munster cynically pulled down a maul.
Leinster's momentum was quickly halted though as Furlong was first shown a yellow and on 32 minutes, Lowe was given a red.
There was still time left in a fractious half for Carbery to punish Leinster's 10th penalty concession as he fired over a well-struck 45-metre penalty just before the break for a 13-3 half-time lead.
Just when you thought Leinster would clean up their discipline upon the restart, Josh van der Flier was pinged for not rolling away and Carbery extended the host's lead with a third successful penalty.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, you sensed that Leinster still had plenty left in the tank and so it proved.
After staying patient, they sensed blood on what was a rare visit to the Munster 22. Garry Ringrose almost got over, but James Tracy made no mistake as burrowed his way over from close range. Sexton added the extras to bring Leinster back to 16-10 with still over half an hour left on the clock.
Suddenly, it was Leinster who were playing as if they had an extra man and when Jordan Larmour made a break, Munster were relieved to see Mike Haley put in a thumping hit on the electric youngster.
Much to his apparent surprise, Sexton was called ashore on the hour mark. With the game still very much in the balance, you could sense the out-half's frustration, but it it had all the makings of a predetermined call as part of the IRFU's player management programme. Sexton was also later seen icing his lower leg as he sat on the bench.
Both sides continued to throw everything at each other. Van der Flier was again penalised after 64 minutes and Carbery was on hand to maintain his 100pc record with the boot as Munster opened up a 19-10 lead.
Leinster piled on the pressure as the clock ticked towards the final 10 minutes and as they went through the phases, Earls shot off the line to intercept Ciaran Frawley's pass to run clear from 80-metres and score under the posts.
Tyler Bleyendaal, who had come on for Carbery added the easy extra two from under the posts as the home crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Max Deegan managed to get over for a late consolation try that Frawley converted but that wasn't enough to scrape a losing bonus point or ruin a night that belonged to Munster.
Munster - M Haley; A Conway, D Goggin (D Sweetnam 65), R Scannell, K Earls; J Carbery (T Bleyendaal 70), C Murray (A Mathewson 74); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman 70), N Scannell (K O’Byrne 76), J Ryan (S Archer 58); J Kleyn (B Holland, 65), T Beirne; F Wycherley, C Cloete (A Botha 29), CJ Stander (capt).
Leinster – J Larmour; R O'Loughlin, G Ringrose (C O'Brien 68), N Reid, J Lowe; J Sexton (capt) (C Frawley 60), L McGrath (H O'Sullivan 74); C Healy (P Dooley 60), J Tracy (B Byrne 60), T Furlong (Bent 68); S Fardy, J Ryan (R Molony 74); R Ruddock (M Bent 35-39), (M Deegan 65) J van der Flier, J Conan.
REF: F Murphy (Ireland)