AFTER a five month wait, Munster were back in Pro 14 action at the weekend as they travelled to the Aviva to take on Leinster.
Munster would eventually fall to a 27-25 defeat to their hosts behind closed doors on Saturday night.
There were two tries from Andrew Conway, his 43rd and 44th for the province, 10 points from the boot of JJ Hanrahan and a wonder finish from Keith Earls.
Prior to kick-off, there was a moment’s silence to mark the loss of life suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic. After this, both sides formed a circle to demonstrate that rugby stands united against racism and to emphasise the game’s core values of solidarity and respect.
A groin injury saw James Cronin pulled from the starting XV before kick-off and there was further bad luck on the injury front in the opening minutes as Dave Kilcoyne – Cronin’s replacement – and RG Snyman departing after just seven minutes.
Despite those setbacks, Munster grabbed an early stranglehold and struck the first blow on 13 minutes.
Stephen Archer, Chris Farrell and Damian de Allende made big carries in the build-up before JJ spun it wide for Andrew Conway to dive over for a hard-earned try. Hanrahan added the extras and Munster led 7-0.
Leinster hit back through a maul try from Cian Healy on 20 minutes after a break from Garry Ringrose gave the hosts good field position. Jonathan Sexton kicked to the corner after Munster indiscipline and the Leinster forwards drove over with Sexton’s conversion making it 7-all.
CJ Stander won a big penalty at the breakdown to give Hanrahan his second shot at goal and the out-half struck a sweet penalty to move Munster back in front, 10-7 with 26 minutes played.
Leinster were level six minutes later with Munster pinged at the breakdown on this occasion as Sexton made it 10 apiece.
Stander latched on to win another breakdown penalty on 35 minutes with Hanrahan nailing a superb penalty from 45 metres out on the right flank.
Leinster snatched the lead for the first time on the stroke of half-time as Robbie Henshaw stabbed a kick through for Garry Ringrose to score their second try. Sexton’s conversion gave Leinster a 17-13 advantage.
James Lowe scored in the left corner to increase the Leinster lead after 52 minutes with Sexton’s conversion making it 24-13.
Stander came up with another big penalty at the breakdown to give Munster a great attacking platform but the Leinster defence repelled the attack.
Lock Jean Kleyn, who had earlier replaced RG Snyman, became the third Munster player to depart injured after 57 minutes with centre Rory Scannell having to replace the second row as Chris Farrell went into the lineout.
Devin Toner was sin-binned around the hour mark as the Leinster lineout infringements started to stack up and Munster hit back four minutes later.
Another period of sustained pressure was rewarded with a try as Earls produced a wonder finish to slam down in the left corner past Luke McGrath.
Hanrahan’s touchline conversion was immaculate and Munster trailed by just four with quarter of an hour left.
A Ross Byrne penalty moved Leinster seven points clear with 10 minutes to go but a brilliant Conway finish got Munster to within two points with JJ narrowly off target with the conversion from out wide.
Munster kept attacking but a late Devin Toner intercept allowed Leinster to clear and secure a narrow victory.
Despite the loss, Chris Farrell was named Man of the Match with the cenrte saying “we’re moving in the right direction. There are a lot of positives to take away from that and we have something to build on for next week”
Head Coach Johann van Graan said it was ” a tough one to take” as Munster now prepare to face Connacht next weekend with the Province still in second place in their conference.
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