Munster 6 Leinster 13
Seán McMahon reports from Thomond Park
Munster’s long unbeaten record at Thomond Park which stretches back to December 2017 and includes 21 games across all competitions finally ended on Saturday night as Leinster came out on the right end of a hard-fought 6-13 victory.
In fact, the last team to beat Munster at Thomond Park was their eastern rivals, a day which will live long in the memory as Jordan Larmour announced himself to the rugby world with a superb solo try as Leinster claimed a 34-24 win.
Heading into the latest chapter of this long rivalry, both sides were far from full strength due to the consequences of the IRFU’s player welfare programme.
Both Johann van Graan and Leo Cullen delved into their respective squads and for the reigning champions, one of their more experienced players was a late withdrawal as Jamison Gibson-Park was ruled out before kick-off with illness. He was replaced by Rowan Osborne, who was making his starting PRO14 debut having only made two substitute appearances thus far for Cullen’s side.
Leinster, aided by a strong wind in the first half, played an excellent kicking game in the opening 40 minutes as Ross Byrne continued to pin Munster back into their own half.
With the eastern province having a lineout just outside the Munster 22, a clever backline move off the ensuing maul saw James Lowe hauled down just metres short of the Munster line. On the very next phase, the impressive Jimmy O’Brien was held up inches short but Munster’s desperate defending couldn’t hold out as Ed Byrne managed to burrow his way over for the game’s opening try. Ross Byrne landed the simple conversion to give Leo Cullen’s side a 0-7 lead after 10 minutes.
Leinster continued to dominate territory but they were thwarted by unforced errors. First, an offload from Lowe went directly into touch before Hugo Keenan flung a pass out of the tackle which Adam Byrne could only but spill forward.
At the midway point of the first half, Chris Cloete made a superb turnover on the deck but such was the heavy wind that Munster were playing into, they only gained a couple of metres when they kicked to the corner. Scrappy ball ensued from the lineout before a Munster player was isolated in the tackle which led to a desperate clearout attempt from the side as referee Frank Murphy had no choice but to ping the southern province for the obvious infraction.
Leinster’s next score came from that penalty. A lineout maul on the Munster 22 saw the eastern province go through a few phases before Chris Cloete was penalised for hands in the ruck, much to the dismay of the home support who were of the opinion that he was the first man in and as such, it was a legitimate turnover. That was no matter to Byrne, who kicked his first penalty to put his side 0-10 in front.
Munster’s kicking game off nine was getting very little purchase due to both the wind and Nick McCarthy, who found himself under constant pressure when attempting to clear his side’s lines.
Leinster took their lead to 0-13 when Munster infringed in the lineout and Byrne produced another excellent kick at goal.
However, with just minutes remaining in the first half, Munster finally entered the Leinster 22 and when the visitors were pinged for going off their feet at the ruck, Billy Holland pointed to the posts and JJ Hanrahan obliged to get Munster off the mark.
This reduced the arrears to 10 points as the southern province went into the sheds hoping that they could claw back the 10-point deficit with the knowledge that they would have a strong wing aiding them in the second half.
Leinster found themselves under pressure from the off as Conor O’Brien knocked on from the Munster restart. The home side went through the phases off the resulting scrum but an excellent steal from Leinster on the deck relieved the pressure.
From the ensuing lineout, a quick-tap free-kick from McCarthy saw Munster go through the phases and gain ground into the Leinster 22 until Josh Murphy was penalised for not rolling away which allowed Hanrahan to get Munster within seven points with another penalty from the tee.
It was then Leinster’s turn to apply the pressure but two huge defensive sets from Munster saw the eastern province come away with nothing to show for their efforts.
Joey Carbery’s introduction just before the midway point of the second half gave hope to the sold-out Thomond Park crowd as he and Rory Scannell produced some excellent kicking to pin Leinster in their 22 time and time again.
In the final 10 minutes, Munster laid siege to the Leinster line and when the southern province were just one metre out, Sean Cronin put a bone-crunching hit in on the towering Darren O’Shea to stem the momentum of the attack which eventually led to a turnover.
That looked to be the final chance but Jack O’Sullivan produced a superb steal on the deck which allowed Joey Carbery to kick to the corner with just a minute remaining.
However, Johann van Graan’s side coughed up the ball from the lineout to allow their opponents to run out the clock and clinch a famous win.
Munster: Mike Haley; Dan Goggin, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Shane Daly; JJ Hanrahan (Carbery 57′), Nick McCarthy (Cronin 66′); Dave Kilcoyne (Loughman 52′), Kevin O’Byrne (Barron 74′), Stephen Archer (Knox 55′); Fineen Wycherley, Billy Holland (C); Tommy O’Donnell (O’Shea 74′), Chris Cloete (O’Sullivan 55′), Jack O’Donoghue.
Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Jeremy Loughman, Keynan Knox, Darren O’Shea, Jack O’Sullivan, Neil Cronin, Joey Carbery, Calvin Nash.
Leinster: Hugo Keenan, Adam Byrne, Jimmy O’Brien, Conor O’Brien (Frawley 59′), James Lowe, Ross Byrne, Rowan Osborne (O’Sullivan 65′), Ed Byrne (Dooley 52′), James Tracy (Cronin 52′), Andrew Porter (Aungier 74′), Devin Toner, Scott Fardy (C), Josh Murphy (Molony 65′), Will Connors (Penny 76′), Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Peter Dooley, Jack Aungier, Ross Molony, Scott Penny, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ciaran Frawley, Tommy O’Brien.