LEINSTER CAME BACK from 12-3 down, and scrum setpiece that was being marched about Lansdowne Road, to claim a huge win over their interprovincial rivals. Munster will curse themselves for not going in at half-time with a greater advantage but Leinster were always going to have their purple patch. When it came, that man Brian O’Driscoll was there to finish off from close range and stretch the Blues league lead over their old foes.
The visitors lost captain Peter O’Mahony [tight hamstring] minutes before kick-off. His name was scratched from the team print-outs — he had already attended the coin toss with Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip — and CJ Stander was etched in as blindside. While his breakdown and tackling experience would be missed, Munster were targeting the scrum as their way of accumulating points. Michael Bent was in as third choice loose-head and he struggled against BJ Botha while Dave Kilcoyne got under Mike Ross’ skin and shoulder too often.
Ian Keatley, an outhalf rarely mentioned in the Test picture, was the very model of reliability off the kicking tee as the hosts were pinged at the scrum and for not rolling away. Another scrum penalty saw Keatley knock over his third kick, this time from 40 metres out, and put Munster 9-0 up.
Leinster piled forward around the 25 minute mark and a conceded Munster penalty, for not rolling away, got Ian Madigan off the mark. O’Driscoll tried to rally his side but found himself getting increasingly frustrated. Luke Fitzgerald forced an attacking 5m scrum but Munster weathered the storm with ease and soon earned another shot at the posts for Keatley as Kilcoyne bested Ross. Leinster staged a late drive up-field and Casey Laulala was penalised for hands in the ruck. Madigan’s penalty was accurate and Munster, for all their forward dominance, were only six points up at the break.
Leinster’s stirring fightback was not immediately apparent as Munster started the second half strongly. An Eoin Reddan break soon had the hosts on the front foot, however, and the crowd began to sense another Titanic struggle was materialising as Damien Varley was penalised and Madigan reduced the arrears. All of Munster’s hard work was wiped out after 51 minutes as Munster lock Dave Foley was the next to feel Rolland’s whistled ire. Madigan made in 12-12.
Worse was to follow for Rob Penney’s men as Kilcoyne was sent to the sin-bin for going off his feet at a ruck. Leinster went for the try but Munster repelled them. Shane Jennings thought he was over for a score on the next surge into the red 22 but it was only a matter of time before the pressure told on 14-man Munster. Jennings was involved again as his offload gave O’Driscoll just enough space to jink inside and dot down.
Munster were not finished yet and Keatley knocked over his fifth penalty of the game moments before Kilcoyne returned to the field. Leinster coach Matt O’Connor realised it was time to freshen the troops and brought on Sean Cronin, Leo Cullen and Zane Kirchner, who replaced a jarred O’Driscoll.
Munster got to within a point of their hosts with three minutes to play as Leinster went off their feet. Keatley’s penalty gave them hope but Leinster have made a habit of beating their rivals at Irish rugby’s headquarters and they worked their way into the Munster half. JJ Hanrahan and Tommy O’Donnell got in a mess as they tried to break free of their half and obstruction was called. Madigan kicked the insurance penalty for a points total of 17 but O’Driscoll, not for the first time, will take most of the headlines.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll (Zane Kirchner), Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Michael Bent, Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin), Mike Ross (Jack O’Connell); Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy (Leo Cullen); Kevin McLaughlin (Jordi Murphy), Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (capt.).
Replacements: Edward Byrne, Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth.
Munster: Felix Jones (Gerhard van den Heever); Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, Denis Hurley (JJ Hanrahan), Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin), Damien Varley (capt.) (Duncan Casey), BJ Botha; Dave Foley (Donncha O’Callaghan), Paul O’Connell; CJ Stander, Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Alan Cotter, Billy Holland, Duncan Williams.
Referee: Allain Rolland.