A normally-composed and clinical Leinster side were left to wonder what went wrong last evening as a series of poor tackles and cards, led to their first defeat to Munster in two years.
Former Munster scrum-half, Frank Murphy was the referee in Thomond Park for the hot-tempered interprovincial derby but Leinster will have no complaints about his officiating with Munster head coach, Johann van Graan, hinting that the province could have received worse punishment.
Cian Healy was sent to the sin bin, on the occasion of his 200th cap, for a high tackle on Conor Murray. He had not long returned to the front row when Tadhg Furlong was judged to have hit Chris Cloete high during a clear out, leading to the Munster flanker having to be stretchered off with a neck injury.
Things only went from bad to worse for the PRO14 and European Cup champions when James Lowe saw red for tackling Andrew Conway in the air with the Munster winger landing on his head. Thankfully, Conway returned to his feet and carried on but the incident could see Lowe receive up to a four-week ban.
Captain, Johnny Sexton, was also in the thick of it. He conceded the first penalty of the day after slapping Fineen Wycherley with the flanker’s scrum-cap in retaliation for a hit by the Munster man. Bar that decision, Sexton had no quarrels with the referee’s officiating.
“The decisions with the yellow cards, I didn’t say anything to the ref about those decisions. James was obviously accidentally but by the letter of the law it’s red and the other two guys, they were yellow cards. It was only one decision I sort of argued with, I got a penalty against me for retaliation and then 10 minutes later, they retaliated and there was no reversal.”
“That was the only decision I really had a problem with, or maybe James Ryan’s one late in the first half where the ball squirts out and we got penalised for that. Other than that, I thought the decisions were correct.”
While the high tackles were not malicious, the World Player of the Year conceded that Leinster will have to clean up their act before they return to Heineken Champions Cup action, if they have any chance of catching Pool leaders, Toulouse.
“With Tadhg’s one, there’s someone in the way and he just disappears at the last moment and Tadhg connects with his head. It was obviously accidental, Tadhg and James’ one. They’re three decisions and there are other penalties we shouldn’t have given away and we’re going to have to look at.”
“It cost us dearly today, but it’s a good learning for us as if that happens against Toulouse, we lose and could be out of Europe.”
Echoing his sentiments, head coach, Leo Cullen, admitted that the fixture, atmosphere and rivalry probably affected his side too much and that they must learn from the experience.
“It’s very difficult to win rugby matches when you concede a red card and two yellows inside the first 32 minutes.”
“Today, we probably lose our head in the first 35 minutes of the game. It’s the atmosphere, it’s fiery and Munster are a very passionate team when they’re playing here at home. From our point of view, we just have to get better at dealing with it.”
“It doesn’t really affect us in the Conference standings, but for us we need to figure out when we’re in this type of cauldron atmosphere how we can manage the game better.”