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“I thought the desire and the spirit shown by the players is pleasing.”
Those were the words of Leinster head coach Leo Cullen in the aftermath of his side’s 27-16 loss to Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday night.
Leinster’s recent run of form over their southern rivals came to an end at Thomond Park, as costly indiscipline proved to be the major difference between the two sides.
In the first half, Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong were sent to the bin for high tackles while James Lowe received a straight red card for clumsily colliding with Andrew Conway in the air who suffered a heavy fall.
Munster were able to eke out the win due to their numerical advantage but although Cullen struggled to find the positives from suffering a defeat with not even a losing bonus point to their name, he did single out how his side kept on fighting to their bitter end and this was best exemplified by their defensive effort throughout the game.
Leinster only conceded two tries – one from a setpiece lineout and the other from a breakaway intercept – their work rate on the other side of the ball allowed them to stay in the game for as long as they did until Keith Earls’ intervention with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Here we take a look at Leinster’s defensive efforts at key moments throughout the game.
Cian Healy was yellow-carded after 17 minutes when his arm collided with Conor Murray’s head when he attempted to complete a tackle. During the first seven minutes in which Healy was off the pitch, Leinster dominated possession and territory as they registered their first points of the game through a Johnny Sexton penalty.
Munster, knowing the importance of scoring when they have a man advantage, looked to do so when Mike Haley brought play deep within the Leinster half after superbly collecting his own garryowen.
Murray was then able to bring play up to the Leinster 22 with a strong carry up the blindside. Now Munster were in an ideal situation – they had Leinster backtracking, they were generating quick ball and they had a numerical advantage.
However, Leinster deployed quick line speed in this passage of play and throughout the game to shut down the home side from playing the ball wide to take advantage of the extra space. As we see in this instance, quick line speed on both sides of the ruck results in Carbery getting tackled and losing a few metres of territory in the process.
From the above image, we see Murray send the ball to Carbery (orange circle) as Munster look to set up the attack. Tadhg Furlong, Jack Conan (white arrow), Johnny Sexton (red arrow) and Noel Reid (blue arrow) all advance quickly which spooks Carbery to check back on his inside (orange curve) and run back towards the original ruck.
Scott Fardy (white circle) who is clearly keeping a close eye on the situation, quickly sees what’s happening and sprints up to meet a meandering Carbery to make a tackle which results in Munster losing significant ground.
Up until this point, Munster were making continuous gains but Leinster’s line speed in this instance stopped their momentum. The home side, two phases later, coughed up possession when CJ Stander knocked on when receiving an inside pass from Murray.
Three minutes after Healy returns from the bin, Leinster are down to 14 again when Furlong receives yellow for making contact with Chris Cloete’s head when attempting to clear out a ruck.
The resulting penalty is kicked into the Leinster 22 and Munster are presented with another promising attacking opportunity.
Niall Scannell peels off the back of the lineout maul and the next two phases show Leinster’s impressive line speed and their strength in contact which ultimately contributes to another turnover.
Murray fires the ball to Stander (orange circle) who is hoping to make a ‘positive’ carry, one which generates forward momentum, but James Ryan (white arrow) and Fardy (red arrow) shoot out of the line to meet him and stop the powerful number eight in his tracks.
Slow ball ensues for Munster and on the next phase, they send the ball to John Ryan. The tighthead makes ground into the 22 as Jean Kleyn and Arno Botha latch onto him to provide some South African force.
However, what looks to be a promising gain by Munster is actually in Leinster’s favour. Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier hold up Ryan and this allows Fardy to hover and prepare for a turnover attempt once the tackle is completed.
Fardy slows Munster’s ball down and his intervention sees the ball fly out of the ruck which has Murray scrambling. The Munster scrum-half panics and goes down the blindside where a rushed offload eventually goes into touch.
In the second half, and down to 14 men due to Lowe’s red card, Leinster get back into the game through a maul try from James Tracy. Approaching the midway point of the second half, there is only six points between the teams and Munster have another promising position to attack from.
A lineout maul on Leinster’s 22 is stopped dead so the ball is shipped to Rory Scannell who fights like a dog on the ground to make inroads into the opposition 22.
The ball is then shipped to Dave Kilcoyne and it’s from here we see that Leinster are in a vulnerable position.
If you’re a Munster supporter, this is where you would be tearing your hair out as all you would want in this situation is for Kilcoyne (white circle) to send a pass out to Carbery (1) who has Earls (2), Haley (3) and Conway (4) outside him.
Garry Ringrose actually misses the tackle on Kilcoyne before he is eventually brought to ground and a snapshot of this moment sees Sexton (blue circle), Rory O’Loughlin (green circle) and Larmour (red circle) as the only covering defenders.
An opportunity is missed here as Leinster’s work rate comes to the fore as they use the time it takes to tackle Kilcoyne to flood the far side of the pitch with defenders.
Most impressively, once Leinster’s reinforcements come around the corner, they shoot up to stop Carbery in his tracks before he can ship the ball out towards the touchline.
It will come as no surprise to see Sexton (blue arrow) lead the charge to Carbery alongside van der Flier (white arrow) and O’Loughlin (red arrow).
Carbery gets swallowed up in the tackle by van der Flier but Munster threaten again as Murray utilises one of his trademark snipes from the base of the next ruck.
With momentum with the home side again, Leinster are in trouble and the next example of keeping Johann van Graan’s team out doesn’t come from any technical excellence but just sheer determination and persistence.
Conway receives the ball at pace and uses the momentum generated from stepping off his right foot to impressively bounce off Furlong before being held up against the odds by Ruddock and the Wexford man despite having reinforcements pushing Conway towards the line. The Munster winger desperately tries to get an offload away but it is fumbled and Leinster turn over possession.
The above examples were just a few of many moments in the game where Leinster’s defence succeeded in holding Munster out.
Deploying line speed like they did comes with risks, however. On more than one occasion, Leinster were pinged by referee Frank Murphy for offside. This allowed Munster to keep the scoreboard ticking over through penalties from Carbery or by at least generating good field position which resulted in further opportunities for shots at goal.
As stated at the beginning, Cullen was pleased with the desire and spirit shown by his players. Although they left Limerick with zero points to their name, the defensive effort and willingness not to give up can provide confidence for their clash with Ulster next weekend before they welcome Toulouse to the RDS for their crucial Heineken Champions Cup tie.
Energia, one of Ireland’s leading and most competitive suppliers of electricity and gas, is a proud partner of Leinster Rugby and Energia Park.
This year, Energia announced its 10-year partnership as Official Energy Partner of Leinster Rugby and naming rights of Energia Park in Donnybrook – the original home of Leinster Rugby.
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