Leinster 13-9 Munster, Aviva Stadium
Stuttering into this game on the back of a poor start to their Magners League campaign, there was no better contest to kick start Leinster’s season. Constant doubt over the possible inclusion of Jonathon Sexton could not have helped Leinster’s preparations for this game, but at the same time will have kept Munster guessing.
This Aviva Stadium clash between Leinster and Munster would have been expected to match the intensity experienced by both players and fans in that enthralling Heineken Cup semi-final clash at Croke Park. It was a tall order to fill, and with no eye watering prize at the end of the 80 minutes to strive for, players and fans were hardly going to risk throw their bodies and voices on the line for a few Magners League points.
The penetrating lights of the Aviva Stadium did their best to mask the rain pouring down from the heavens, but there was a heavy shower over the stadium was looking an early risk to the quality of rugby on show for the evening. Smoke resulting from a fireworks display as the teams entered the pitch delayed the start of kick off as the rain eased off.
Both teams showed flashes of their best rugby during specifically dominated segments of the game. Munster began with all the power and ferociousness that is typically associated with their game. Leinster failed to match this intensity and were thoroughly on the back foot for much of the opening 20 minutes.
Posing questions of the Leinster defence, Munster continuously threw body after body at the their opponents’ defensive line. Leinster were only left to tackle the Munster players and couldn’t be faulted. However, at the breakdown, Munster were bossing proceedings and were rewarded for their early foray into Leinster’s half with a penalty on 3 minutes. Ronan O’Gara duly came forward and from the right wing easily slotted over to give Munster the lead.
Unforced errors from Leinster appeared to be stunting their performance as repeatedly silly mistakes cost them territory and kept the initiative in the hands of Munster. Although, on 15 minutes, after Isa Nacewa failed to convert a penalty from near halfway, Leinster began to grow into the game. Leinster began to showpiece their improved scrum and also challenged Munster repeatedly at the line-out through Devin Toner.
A lively spark in Leinster’s play showed Leinster’s arrival on the scene. Nacewa easily evaded two Munster tacklers and darted through their line. As he was closed down the fly half’s offload reached Gordon D’Arcy who was then viciously taken down by a high and reckless tackle from Lifeimi Mafi.
Due to this infringement, Leinster won a scrum and capitalised through it by retaining the ball in dangerous positions and continuously recycle the ball. It was due to this dominance of play that Leinster were rewarded with their first points of the match. After winning four scrums in a row and showing uncharacteristic solidity in the set piece, Leinster managed to win a penalty due to errors in Munster’s scrambling defence. Nacewa duly slotted over the penalty from close range to draw the game after 23 minutes.
Heaslip looked to be back to his best form and was very effective in hunting down Munster players caught in possession. Munster gained back initiative after Leinster’s only period of dominance and came close to retaking the lead when O’Gara narrowly missed a penalty on 30 minutes.
Leinster started the second half with more drive and due to an early Lifeimi Mafi yellow card for another high tackle, tried to make use of having an extra man. In fact, the game swung Munster’s way again on 48 minutes after a quick counter attack, Leinster made errors at the breakdown and gifted O’Gara an easy kicking opportunity, which he easily converted.
It took Leinster until 54 minutes to claw Munster back to a draw after another close range kick was slotted over by Nacewa. The flyhalf for the night was putting in an average performance, and Leinster needed an extra level in their attacking moves to breach that Munster defence. Jonathon Sexton and Eoin Reddan were both drafted in the 55th minute and instantly the speed of the ball being recycled at the breakdown and spread to the backs increased.
The intensity of Leinster’s play was to help them later on in the game, but the home side were level with their opponents for little more than two minutes as a few lucky breaks and indiscipline at the breakdown went the way of Munster, allowing them to take the lead at 6-9 from the boot of O’Gara.
From this point, Leinster bossed the game and granted Munster no breather as Reddan and Sexton quickly and effectively used the ball across the pitch. As a result, breaks in the Munster line cropped up and on 59 minutes, Kearney managed to weave through and race towards the try-line. The fullback found Luke Fitzgerald on his shoulder and the Leinster winger was pulled short of the line and lost the ball in the tackle.
This break was a sign of things to come, and on 69 minutes, Leinster finally breached the Munster defence. Talismanic centre, Brian O’Driscoll ran in the try after a quick tap from Reddan from a scrum allowed Leinster to quickly get at the Munster defence. His pass found Dominic Ryan who took the ball into contact. Off the ensuing ruck, Sean O’Brien happily took the ball again into contact and managed to offload to the unmarked O’Driscoll.
Munster did have sustained possession in the Leinster twenty-two during the final ten minutes, however, they failed to find a breach and eventually were pushed back by a reinvigorated Leinster. The game closed out with little or no sign of a Munster comeback. Leinster wasted significant time with pick and drives around the halfway line and were happy to sit on their lead.
This win was exactly the kick start Leinster’s season needed and will be a much required confidence boost ahead of the opening round Heineken Cup fixture against Racing Metro next weekend.