Leinster Rugby brimming with fledgling prospects came, saw and conquered Munster Rugby with an excellent display in a dramatic inter-provincial encounter at Thomond Park. This festive period fixture has being accused at times of not providing good entertainment due to the decision to rest first line players but today put that assertion firmly in its place.
All credit to Leinster Rugby who from the kick off signaled their intent. Dan Leavy who was immense throughout creating turn over ball from Wootton to provide Ross Byrne with the opportunity to slot over the first three points of the contest.
Munster Rugby were struggling to get into the game and the industrious visitors sensed their opportunity with more incisive line breaks and slick passing. The ball finally made its way to Ross Byrne who had the presence of mind to identify Leavy out wide with acres of space to execute an inch perfect kick to the back row to score the first try. 10-0, no more than the visitors deserved.
The home supporters tried to spark the home side into life and they responded. Good pack play from close range allowing Conor Murray sufficient time to touchdown. Keatley missed the tough conversion and it was 5-13. Munster up and running but not for long.
Leinster’s performance today was a serious statement of intent. This display spoke volumes of their squad depth and the players who were given their opportunities took it with both hands. Byrne again instrumental, given so much time and space to provide a superb kick in behind for Lowe who was destined to score only to be obstructed by Conway. Owens awarded the penalty try and ten minutes for the Munster back line player.
The crucial ten minute period with Conway in the bin only provided more opportunities for a now rampant Leinster Rugby to exploit. Yet more poor kicking from Munster resulting in a multiple man overlap down the line. Henshaw support of the ball carrier on point and the gap was out to twenty points. Munster defensively were hapless. 5-27. Byrne superb off the tee.
As the opening half wore on, the word accuracy continued to be a prevailing theme. Leinster’s defensive and attacking lines were effective and efficient, good line speed while Munster were at times ponderous with ball in hand. The kicking game was quite glaring. Ian Keatley’s kick out in the full just before the interval summed up Munster’s opening period. Nothing was going right for the hosts.
The second half started with Munster Rugby looking to build momentum and two quick tries duly arrived. Keatley and Conway scoring good efforts aided by several lung bursting forward pack phases of play. Keatley slotted the conversion for the Conway score and suddenly the scoreboard was down to a nine point game. 18-27. Game on.
The vital third quarter arrived with Munster Rugby on the up but the manner in which Leinster Rugby maintained their defensive shape was on point during this spell, absorbing phase after phase of Munster pressure. Leinster Rugby did take advantage of a couple of line out steals during this period which prompted Munster Rugby to call Niall Scannell into the action. Yet again accuracy issues for Munster.
Leinster Rugby to a man put their bodies on the line. James Lowe’s clash with Andrew Conway a perfect example. Both players went for a 50/50 ball. Lowe did not shirk from his defensive responsibility in an excellent outing which paled in contrast to Munster’s wide men who endured tough afternoons. Sweetnam never got a look in and Wootton’s kicking game was exposed more than once.
The game was in the melting pot until the try of the afternoon was scored by one of the hottest prospects in Irish rugby. Jordan Larmour did not put a foot wrong this afternoon and there appeared to be little danger when the full back received the ball but in a flash, the player had evaded a couple of Munster players and his searing pace was bearing down on the Munster try line with only Simon Zebo to beat.
Larmour touched down despite the best efforts of Zebo, a world class score oozing class and it raises the name of Larmour for a potential RBS 6N squad inclusion? This blog has rated the player highly in recent weeks and this performance will not have gone unnoticed by Ireland management. An incredible talent in the making.
The Larmour try signaled the end of the contest, a bonus point try for Leinster Rugby and left the Thomond Park faithful silenced. After a breathless twenty minutes where both sides exchanged excellent passages of play, Larmour’s brilliance was utterly fitting to seal the win for the visitors.
Munster Rugby did try to respond and secured their own bonus try point from Conway after good work from Zebo to bring a couple of Leinster players before passing but this was an emphatic display from Leinster Rugby, an emphatic statement of the squad depth and exposed Munster’s flat start and lack of creativity in the back line unit.
Leinster look ominously placed for honors at the end of the season. When you consider the number of first line players either rested or unavailable for selection today, it is a chastening loss for anyone connected with Munster Rugby.
The gap has increased between the two provinces, to say anything different is wide off the mark. Ross Byrne at ten was sublime, his place kicking was on point, accuracy personified. 5/5 for Byrne. A talent who is developing into a quality fly-half. Carbery will have his work cut out trying to dislodge Byrne from the ten jersey after performances like today.
The pack contest was superbly fought but the back row mobility of Leinster Rugby ruled the roost on key stages. Leavy, Conan and Murphy all took ownership and Leavy was a man possessed at times at the breakdown.
Munster Rugby will need to sit down and reflect on this performance. It was a bitterly disappointing opening half where nothing seem to go right. The line out was a mess and the maul was taken out of action as a result. Discipline also reared its head as Leinster Rugby took advantage of a couple of soft offside concessions from Munster Rugby to secure field position and points on the board.
The manner of the loss to this Leinster Rugby side on show is one which will not sit well with the senior players of the group but the skill set differential was huge today. Leinster Rugby looked like a side who prepared well last week, executed their game plan to a tee. Munster Rugby were sloppy on all facets and were made to pay.
Reality check and a first serious test for van Graan as head coach ahead of a key three fixture series against Connacht (H), Racing 92 (A) and Castres (H). Intriguing weeks to follow in Munster while Leinster Rugby can travel back home looking with renewed confidence and vigor for 2018!