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Leinster edge thrilling clash with Munster to secure Pro14 final against Scarlets

It came down to the very death, but Leinster are still on for the double.

Leinster 16

Munster 15

Murray Kinsella reports from the RDS

IT CAME DOWN to the very death, but Leinster’s dream of a Champions Cup and Guinness Pro14 double is still on.

Jack Conan celebrates scoring with team mates Leinster celebrate Jack Conan's first-half try. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Munster produced a rousing performance in the second half and looked like they could even pinch a win in the closing passage of the game, a sign perhaps that Johann van Graan’s side have better days ahead in the future.

However, their skill level let them down at times on an afternoon when Simon Zebo bowed out before his move to Racing 92 this summer, but Leinster were just about the better team, particularly in an excellent first-half showing.

They move on to the Pro14 final next weekend at the Aviva Stadium, where they will meet the Scarlets after the Welsh region tore Glasgow apart in Scotstoun last night with their blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brand of attacking rugby.

It promises to be a thrilling final, after we got plenty of compelling and absorbing rugby in this inter-provincial semi-final at a sunny and jam-packed RDS.

Indeed, this felt like the good old days of the Leinster-Munster rivalry were back, with both sets of fans turning up in full colour and full volume in Ballsbridge.

Leinster worked their way into a 10-3 half-time lead, particularly inspired by man of the match James Lowe – whose introduction was one of six personnel changes after last weekend’s Champions Cup final victory.

The astounding James Ryan was excellent again as he made it 22 wins from 22 professional games, Jack Conan was superb, although Isa Nacewa was unfortunate to last just a half before going off injured in what was his last game at the RDS.

The captain will hope to be fit for Leinster’s shot at a double next weekend, while the expected returns of Johnny Sexton and Dan Leavy would also lift Leo Cullen’s side even further for the decider.

James Lowe with Sammy Arnold and Simon Zebo James Lowe was a major influence early on. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Munster’s first season under van Graan is at a disappointing end, even if two second-half tries from Keith Earls and Gerbrandt Grobler gave them late hope of snatching what had looked like an unlikely victory in the opening 40.

A first-half yellow card for Jean Kleyn was costly, even if they edged that 10-minute sin-binning period of the game. Van Graan knows he has a summer of important work ahead of him.

At the RDS today, Leinster marked their intent to play from deep from the kick-off and though Peter O’Mahony stole one early lineout for Munster, the home side burst into the lead inside the opening 10 minutes.

It was second row Ryan’s immense hit on Jean Kleyn that sparked the attack, allowing Leinster to counter-ruck and win the turnover. The ball was shifted wide left and Lowe steamrolled Zebo before offloading inside to Nacewa, Tadhg Furlong following up with an emphatic clearout on Andrew Conway.

Two phases later, the magician Lowe was back on the ball, bursting past Munster prop James Cronin after a sharp inside pass by Leinster’s own loosehead, Jack McGrath.

Lowe beat Zebo in the tackle again but stumbled with the tryline in sight and instead skillfully flicked a one-handed offload to the supporting Jack Conan as he fell, the number eight finishing under the sticks.

With Ross Byrne receiving treatment, Joey Carbery tacked on the two extra points and that score signalled was to be a superior Leinster skill level for most of the afternoon.

Munster lost Jack O’Donoghue to injury in the 10th minute, the back row hurt as he chased back to tackle the immense Ryan when the Leinster lock made an athletic break out of Leinster’s 22.

The passing quality from Munster was poor in attack, although Leinster failed to release in a tackle near the quarter mark and allowed the visitors onto the scoreboard through the boot of JJ Hanrahan.

JJ Hanrahan kicks a penalty Hanrahan kicked a penalty for Munster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

But Billy Holland failed to roll away from a tackle just two minutes later and Byrne kicked the penalty to send Leinster 10-3 in front.

Lowe nearly had a try in the 23rd minute when slick hands from Byrne and Jordan Larmour put him into clear space down the left touchline, but Munster centre Sammy Arnold produced a sublime try-saving tackle in the corner to deny him.

Conor Murray broke out of Munster’s 22 after an offload from replacement Robin Copeland at the back of a scrum coming towards the half-hour as the incredible pace of the game continued, with Conway continuing the sudden momentum.

Munster swung the ball wide left and Zebo made a second break but his final pass to Earls didn’t go to hand and the opportunity was wasted. Referee Stuart Berry came back for an offside penalty against Leinster, but Hanrahan was wide from 38 metres out.

More inaccurate passing stymied a couple further Munster possession before their best passage of the game coming towards half-time – with Conway and Keith Earls prominent – almost ended with Stander smashing over for a try.

However, Leinster lock Ryan did superbly to hold him up with Luke McGrath and though it looked like Munster would have a fine five-metre chance from the scrum, TMO Neil Paterson was called on to review a clearout in the build-up.

The footage showed that Kleyn had dangerously made head-on-head contact with Byrne at ruck time and though Berry opted for his yellow card, the reckless action could have even led to a red.

Jean Kleyn is shown a yellow card Jean Kleyn deservedly saw yellow. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Even with a numerical disadvantage, Munster started the second half brightly and had soon reeled in Leinster’s lead to two points.

The increasingly influential Copeland won an excellent turnover near the Leinster 22 and then hooker Rhys Marshall made important metres on a sneaky dart close to a ruck, before the ball was moved to the left corner.

Zebo did well on the ball but Carbery will be disappointed to have bitten in on edge of the Leinster defence, allowing Munster’s fullback to slip an overhead pass to the waiting Keith Earls to finish smartly.

Ian Keatley, on at half-time for JJ Hanrahan, pulled the difficult conversion left but Munster were right back in the game.

It was, therefore, even more frustrating for them to concede a silly penalty for chasing a Murray box kick from an offside position – Keatley and John Ryan pinged – and allowing Byrne to move Leinster out to 13-8 with a penalty kick.

Garry Ringrose brilliantly hounded down Zebo after the Leinster centre’s own grubber kick soon after, allowing Rory O’Loughlin – on for Isa Nacewa at the interval – to win a turnover penalty.

Leinster confidently opted for the corner rather than a shot at goal, but with Kleyn back on the Munster pack muscled up to earn a turnover when they held the maul up five metres out.

Simon Zebo celebrates team mate Keith Earls' try Simon Zebo celebrates Keith Earls' try. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

James Cronin was penalised at scrum time in the 53rd minute but Byrne was wide with his penalty attempt, before Munster’s O’Mahony showed his leadership.

First, he won the Keatley restart after the penalty miss and then produced a lovely pass to send Zebo scurrying up the left, where he chipped ahead. Munster looked unlucky not to win a penalty as Larmour scooped up an apparent Carbery knock-on in an offside position, but Leinster survived.

An Earls knock-on under what looked like a routine catch provided Leinster a scrum and with Andrew Porter and James Tracy literally just on the pitch to join fellow front row replacement Cian Healy, they marched forward for a scrum penalty.

Carbery took on the long-range effort but he was well wide to the left and Munster were still within five points.

They had a chance to reduce that margin further when their heavy pressure and ability to retain possession drew Healy into a penalty for playing scrum-half Murray at a ruck, but Munster oddly opted against a quite kickable shot at goal.

Instead, with just over 10 minutes remaining, they went towards the left corner – Murray didn’t quite manage to kick within five metres – where they won a scrappy lineout and were then turned over by Tracy a couple of phases later.

And Carbery was accurate off the tee inside the closing five minutes from the right of the posts after another Leinster scrum penalty, sending them 16-8 in front.

But Munster weren’t dead just yet.

Leinster players celebrate at the final whistle Max Deegan won the game-clinching turnover. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

They produced another compelling surge in attack, leading to a close-range penalty that Murray quick-tapped. Sub lock Gerbrandt Grobler got onto the ball within striking range and cleverly dove to score against the base of the posts.

Keatley converted, leaving Leinster 16-15 in front as they kicked off with just a minute remaining.

Incredibly, Zebo broke out of Munster’s 22 and found Earls, whose offload attempt to Rory Scannell was batted down. Munster somehow regathered the ball though and continued into the Leinster half.

But waiting to pounce over the tackle was Max Deegan – who had only come on for that final minute of the game after Grobler’s try.

The promising back row clamped over the ball at breakdown time and earned the turnover that secured Leinster’s spot in the Pro14 final.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Jack Conan

Conversions: Joey Carbery [1 from 1]

Penalties: Ross Byrne [2 from 3], Joey Carbery [1 from 2]

Munster scorers:

Tries: Keith Earls, Gerbrandt Grobler

Conversions: Ian Keatley [1 from 2]

Penalties: JJ Hanrahan [1 from 2]

LEINSTER: Joey Carbery; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Isa Nacewa (captain) (Rory O’Loughlin ‘HT), James Lowe; Ross Byrne (HIA – Barry Daly ’37 to ‘HT), Luke McGrath (Nick McCarthy ’76); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’47), Seán Cronin (James Tracy ’56), Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter ’56); Devin Toner, James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock (Scott Fardy ’63), Jordi Murphy (Max Deegan ’79), Jack Conan.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Sammy Arnold (Darren Sweetnam ’69), Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan (Ian Keatley ‘HT), Conor Murray; James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’53), Rhys Marshall (Niall Scannell ’60), John Ryan (Ciaran Parker ’74); Jean Kleyn (yellow card ’37), Billy Holland (Gerbrandt Grobler ’51); Peter O’Mahony (captain), Jack O’Donoghue (Robin Copeland ’11), CJ Stander.

Replacement not used: Duncan William.

Referee: Stuart Berry [SARU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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