Munster – 26
Leinster – 17
Sean McMahon reporting from Thomond Park
Munster secured a 26-17 win over Leinster at Thomond Park to end a four-match losing streak against their fiercest rivals.
This game will live long in the memory, not for the quality of rugby on display but for the level of physicality and indiscipline which featured heavily throughout.
In the opening 40 minutes, Leinster conceded a massive 10 penalties which saw Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong both go to the bin and James Lowe receive a straight red card.
Munster’s numerical advantage in the opening 40 minutes gave them a 13-3 lead at halftime, but they were made to work hard for their win as Leinster staged a comeback which was ultimately ended by a Keith Earls intercept try.
There was a late change just before kick-off as Dave Kearney was ruled out at the last minute. Rory O’Loughlin moved to the right wing and Noel Reid came in from the bench to take the O’Loughlin’s vacated spot in midfield. Conor O’Brien was then promoted to the bench.
In the opening two and half minutes, Leinster were doing all the running and looked dangerous. This was until the first flash-point in the game occurred. The incident between Johnny Sexton and Fineen Wycherley set the tone for the rest of the 80 minutes.
Wycherley hit Sexton after the Ireland out-half released the ball and a melee ensued as Sexton ripped Wycherley’s scrum cap off resulting in a penalty to Munster.
This was the first major scuffle of the game and it would become a feature throughout.
Controversy and another melee ensued when Scott Fardy put in a high tackle on Chris Cloete when the South African flanker attempted to collect a Joey Carbery chip.
Munster opted for the corner instead of the shot at goal and it proved to be the correct decision as a huge maul yielded the first try of the game when Chris Cloete crashed over the line. Carbery secured the touchline conversion to give Munster a 7-0 lead.
Leinster were soon down to 14 men when Healy saw yellow for a high tackle on Conor Murray. Leo Cullen’s side were able to get three points back during this period where there was another on-field scuffle which all began from a high tackle on Jordan Larmour from Murray.
The eastern province eventually won another penalty when Munster brought down a Leinster maul which gave Sexton the opportunity to bring the game back to 7-3.
With the clock reaching the half-hour mark, there was more discipline issues at the fore in this hectic first half. Tadhg Furlong was penalised and sent to the sin bin for making contact with the head of Chris Cloete when clearing out a ruck. Furlong’s chest and shoulder area made contact with Cloete’s head, and the flanker had to be stretchered from the field to be replaced by Arno Botha.
It continued to get worse for Leinster as James Lowe received a red card when the New Zealander made contact with Andrew Conway when the Munster winger attempted to field a high ball. Conway landed on his head and referee Frank Murphy saw little choice but to show the former Chiefs winger a red card.
With the numerical advantage, Munster slotted another two penalties through Carbery to give them a 13-3 lead at halftime.
The second half began in Munster’s favour when Carbery added another three points when Josh van der Flier failed to roll away from a ruck.
Munster indiscipline soon allowed Leinster a sustained period of pressure and territory. The eastern province got their reward when a lineout maul proved too powerful for Munster to defend as James Tracy was able to ground the ball amongst a pile of bodies.
Sexton’s subsequent conversion brought it back to a one-score game as Munster held a 16-10 lead with just 10 minutes played in the second half.
Munster managed to withstand another dangerous period of Leinster possession and with 15 minutes remaining, they were able to extend their lead to nine points when Carbery landed a penalty after the away side were penalised for offside.
But Leinster are not a side to give up. With less than 10 minutes remaining, the reigning champions were pounding away at the Munster line until Keith Earls intercepted a Ciaran Frawley pass just metres from his own line to run the length of the pitch and dot down under the posts.
This gave Munster a 26-10 lead, but the home side coughed up one more try when Max Deegan crashed over from close range with the clock in the red to give Munster the win on a final scoreline of 26-17.
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Dan Goggin (Sweetnam 65′), Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery (Bleyendaal 71′), Conor Murray (Mathewson 74′); Dave Kilcoyne (Loughman 71′), Niall Scannell (O’Byrne 76′), John Ryan (Archer 59′); Jean Kleyn (Holland 65′), Tadhg Beirne; Fineen Wycherley, Chris Cloete (Botha 30′), CJ Stander (C).
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Jeremy Loughman, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Arno Botha, Alby Mathewson, Tyler Bleyendaal, Darren Sweetnam.
Leinster: Jordan Larmour, Rory O’Loughlin, Garry Ringrose (O’Brien 69′), Noel Reid, James Lowe, Johnny Sexton (Frawley 60′), Luke McGrath (O’Sullivan 73′), Cian Healy (Dooley 60′), James Tracy (Byrne 60′), Tadhg Furlong (Bent 69′), Scott Fardy, James Ryan (Molony 73′), Rhys Ruddock (Deegan 70′), Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Peter Dooley, Michael Bent, Ross Molony, Max Deegan, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ciaran Frawley, Conor O’Brien.