The bragging rights at the Aviva Stadium are again with Leinster as they accounted for Munster 23-17 today. A game which showed the skill set of Rory O’Loughlin and the prowess of Keith Earls in open play. Hawkeye Sidekick reviews the action from today and there is still plenty for both sides to mull over in video analysis early next week.
Leinster won this contest with a dominant opening period. The hosts settled early doors, were abrasive in the collision zone and forced Munster to play deep in their own half. O’Loughlin was prominent in ball carrying and his side step past John Ryan from close range was never going to be stopped. The opening Leinster try was setup by a rash penalty concession from Dave Kilcoyne who flopped in the tackle, no arm tackle and the penalty setup field position. 7-0 to Leinster and Munster were up against it.
The hosts were eager to add to their points tally and after impressive work from the front five, Henshaw’s intended pass to a colleague out wide was knocked on by Niall Scannell. Whitehouse reviewed the footage, line break was on and the hooker was off for ten minutes. Munster needed to batten down the hatches and keep the score as was but they availed from a misfiring Leinster back line move to get back into this contest.
Munster had provided due warning of their back line intent when Keith Earls ran for a try from midfield; the sweeping pass from Chris Farrell was forward but the opportunity was executed with precision and Leinster’s back three defensively were exposed. Carbery with a missed tackle. Byrne’s defensive positioning needed to be better. Leinster reprieve but it was not heeded.
Sexton ran the move and a pass to Henshaw did not stick. The ball found its way to Ian Keatley and the fly-half ran from his own half to score a try in front of the posts. 7-7 and playing with fourteen players. Munster somehow were back in the game with limited territory and possession count.
Leinster to their credit continued to probe and control the territory. The aerial kicks were becoming a source of attacking threat for the hosts as Adam Byrne was increasingly becoming a dominant figure in this facet of play. The winger caught several 50/50 aerial bombs and his presence in the air unnerved Munster which was evident in Leinster’s second try scored just before the interval.
Twenty-one phases for Leinster; composure and Sexton on cue pinged a good aerial kick which setup territory within ten meters of the Munster line. Several phases later and the extra Leinster man overlap was created. Carbery hitting the line and passing the ball to O’Loughlin who had the simplest of tasks. An excellent score for Leinster, probably the attacking highlight of the afternoon for the hosts as numerous attacking plays lacked the precision and speed to unlock the Munster defense which was good in first time tackling but the breakdown was a struggle as van der Flier, Conan were having hugely productive days.
Munster game management in the third quarter in particularly in their own half was put under the microscope with some questionable plays called from deep. Two penalties were leaked by Munster for ponderous ball carrying phases where exit strategy was the call. Sexton did the needful and punished Munster. This all coming after Keith Earls finished off a sweeping move started with a lung bursting line break from Tommy O’Donnell who broke the Leinster defense. It was a rare occasion for Munster. A difficult conversion missed by JJ but potential signs of a revival.
The visitors continued to probe and refused three points going for the line. JJ Hanrahan had now summoned the ten jersey as Keatley failed to appear at the restart. The pack and the maul was not precise enough, questionable what Ruddock was up to in the final maul during this period but Whitehouse officiated and gave the decision to Leinster; a golden opportunity for Munster missed. The pack not precise enough in the maul, all too passive. Leinster rejoiced and recognized the significance of the moment high fives ensued.
The benches subsequently cleared in the final quarter. Leinster were still controlling territory for the most part and to be honest did not look like losing this encounter. Munster’s attacking intent was reduced to Chris Farrell launching sweeping passes out wide. Wootton tried to get involved but Leinster’s defensive line were weary of the threat. Ball was coughed up and on another day, Leinster could have availed of the mistakes with another try.
Munster finished the game with a flourish. Several good phases particularly Stephen Archer’s ball carry which gained around eight meters. The ball from this carry subsequently went out wide and good interchange between Farrell and Hanrahan saw Earls over again in the corner. The conversion again was missed from a tight angle. Loser point territory for Munster.
Leinster were able to game manage for the rest of the game. Munster huffed and puffed deep in their own half, now forced to ball carry from their own try line. Munster were faced with a wall of Leinster players and the final action saw Duncan Williams forced to kick the ball dead from his own line. Whitehouse blew the whistle and both sides reflect on a competitive fixture.
Both sides have plenty of focus on in video analysis. Leinster will be pleased by the front five performance. The lineout was excellent. Munster did not compete mostly on Leinster throws as Toner was a predominant figure. The back row was abrasive and breakdown work of van der Flier and Conan was on point. McGrath had a superb battle with Murray. Both players gave as good as they got. Sexton’s kicking game was excellent, aerial bombs on point and 100% success rate off the tee. O’Loughlin with a brace of tries.
The back three showed massive potential with attacking intent but there are underlying concerns defensively. Three tries leaked. Back three were exposed on each occasion and ERC opposition will look to exploit any weakness in this area in the coming weeks.
Munster’s work rate and intensity was present contrary to Reggie Corrigan’s assertions. The issue was a lack of balance in the side. The front five lacked power and physicality at vital times during this contest. The maul was a aspect of play which needs to improve next weekend; try scoring opportunities were squandered today. Game management and exit strategy need to be tweaked as well. Leinster punished ponderless Munster play in the third quarter; decisive moments of the game. An excellent fixture for both sides.