LEINSTER have once again edged Munster to an inter-provincial derby victory tonight at Thomond Park.
Munster pushed Leinster to their limits in what was an impressive team performance but were always going to need to take their chances against such quality opposition.
Two missed kicks from JJ Hanrahan came back to haunt Johann Van Graan’s men as a 70th minute Jordan Larmour try secured the victory for Leinster.
This is sure to be a result to hurt Munster for some time but there were many signs of the gap significantly closing between the two provinces.
Conor Murray produced his biggest performance in over a year at the base of the ruck, young guns like Gavin Coombes and Shane Daly didn’t give the champions a moment’s peace and fullback Mike Haley may have put in the finest performance of his Munster career to date.
Munster burst out of the blocks. A sense of urgency and a nice variation of passing between forwards and backs put the home side’s intentions for the evening on display almost immediately.
Conor Murray’s box-kicks followed to great effect on three successive occasions and Munster physically got the upper hand. The robust carrying from the Munster forwards and snappy delivery of Murray helped progress play into Leinster territory where Hanarahan handed the hosts an early 3-0 lead six minutes in.
Gavin Coombes and CJ Stander made important yards driving towards the Leinster try line to continue the Munster surge. Munster dominated the collisions by rolling dangerously into the Leinster 22 and duly made their way over after eleven minutes when Man of the Match Tadhg Beirne rumbled through desperate tackles to ground the ball beneath the sticks. Hanrahan converted and Munster held a ten point lead.
In what was a mostly terrific first half performance, Van Graan’s men continued to turn the screw. Failure to convert good territory into points did however become a theme as the lineout malfunctioned at crucial moments.
The in-form Kevin O’Byrne will be wondering what he did wrong to have been omitted from tonight’s 23.
Leinster had to wait until the 26th minute before they registered their first three points of the evening as Sexton began to stamp his authority on proceedings. Ireland’s captain drove his side into attacking areas and only for some heroic defence and a huge turnover from Tadhg Beirne, Leinster would certainly have scored a try. Momentum to Munster once more.
The key event of the match was when the clock turned red on forty minutes. JJ Hanrahan struck a long-range penalty kick off the sticks, Leinster played on and after a couple of penalties conceded by Munster in the following play, Johnny Sexton found himself within shooting range.
The 35 year-old stepped up to the plate in typical fashion to leave the sides heading down the tunnel with the scoreboard reading Munster 10-6 Leinster. A six point swing.
The second half was a scrappier war of attrition with no points scored until the 70th minute. Munster defended well with Tadhg Beirne again pulling vital turnovers out of the bag and they soon had further chances of their own.
On 46 minutes JJ Hanrahan had the opportunity to make amends when a simple kick was presented to him in front of the posts. The Kerryman will be bitterly dissapointed not to have made it a two-score game and Munster ultimately paid the price.
Just as Munster looked to be heading towards a narrow 10-6 victory with only ten minutes remaining, Leinster showed exactly why they are champions. A clever drilled kick from Ross Byrne was collected and offloaded to the on-rushing right winger Jordan Larmour who dotted down in the corner.
Leinster took their chance when it mattered and Byrne nailed the kick to secure a brilliant victory.
FT; Munster 10-13 Leinster
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