When brilliant tries from D'Arcy and Horgan helped Leinster to beat Munster
20 years ago, Nathan Spooner played a key role as Leinster claimed the inaugural Celtic League.

WHEN THE TOPIC of the best foreign imports in Irish rugby comes up, Nathan Spooner rarely features too prominently.

He didn’t stay for a long time, just two seasons, but the Australian out-half made a positive impression and was a key figure in Leinster beating Munster in the inaugural Celtic League final in 2001.

shane-horgan INPHO Keith Gleeson, Nathan Spooner, and Shane Horgan. INPHO

The twice-capped Wallaby kicked 14 points in a memorable inter-pro clash in front of 30,000 people at the old Lansdowne Road as Matt Williams’ Leinster side overcame a first-half red card for Eric Miller to rock Munster.

Leinster’s 24-20 victory came at a time when Munster were the dominant force in the rivalry, having won 11 of the previous 15 games between the teams. 

It wasn’t a turning point for Leinster – the southern province were still on the rise towards their two European titles – but it was a happy day for the province nonetheless as Shane Horgan and Gordon D’Arcy scored wonderful tries and Spooner pulled the strings.

The Guinness Pro14 relived the 2001 final this week on their YouTube channel ahead of today’s clash at the RDS between Leinster and Munster in the decider, 20 years on from their battle in Lansdowne Road.

Declan Kidney’s Munster had played in the Heineken Cup final the year before and would be back in the 2002 European decider just five months later, but Leinster picked them off in between.

Early in the 2001 Celtic League final, played on 15 December, the signs were ominous for Leinster.

Soon after a penalty miss from Spooner, Munster move into the lead with a muscular, high-tempo score from a quick tap penalty by inside centre Rob Henderson.

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Henderson’s alertness catches Leinster napping and they’re not 10 metres back as Leo Cullen makes a tackle on the Lions midfielder.

Malcolm O’Kelly jackals over the ball and appears to be in a good position to slow the momentum, but Munster’s Anthony Foley comes powering in to clear him away.


Foley’s entry angle is questionable but his intervention provides Munster with quick ball against a Leinster defence still scrambling to react.

Second row Mick Galwey takes advantage with an immediate pick and carry through the tackle of Reggie Corrigan.

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O’Kelly and tighthead Paul Wallace have worked back and bring Galwey to ground, but Alan Quinlan, Jim Williams, and Foley are quick onto the scene to clear out as Munster keep their foot on the throat.

With advantage playing, scrum-half Mike Prendergast shifts the ball left to Henderson, who is back on his feet and ready to carry again.

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With the tryline now very much in sight, Munster’s breakdown work is very aggressive after Corrigan and Victor Costello have tackled Henderson.

Munster wing John O’Neill drives in on opposite number Shane Horgan before hooker Frankie Sheahan thunders in to smash him clear with his right shoulder.


Cullen then threatens over the ball but Quinlan arrives in to deal with him, connecting with the Leinster lock around his neck.


It’s a high connection from Quinlan but it’s not penalised.

Scrum-half Prendergast has to commit to the messy breakdown but as Foley arrives behind him, he identified that Leinster’s number nine, Brian O’Meara, has been left isolated on the fringe of the ruck.


This close to the tryline, it’s a mismatch and Foley takes his chance to barrel over for a fifth-minute score.


Referee Nigel Whitehouse awards the try and O’Gara converts for a 7-0 lead.

Rather than being rocked by the early concession, Leinster react well and Spooner soon gets them on the scoreboard with a penalty. 

They very nearly hit the front when inside centre Horgan makes a scything linebreak off a lineout only for Munster fullback Dominic Crotty to pull off a stunning try-saving tackle.

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Horgan might have been able to fight his way over with a ball transfer into his left hand, freeing his right to fend, but it’s a superb tackle from Crotty.

Unfortunately for Munster, they infringe on the next phase as Prendergast is yellow carded for slowing the ball at the breakdown and Spooner is able to kick Leinster back to within a point.

But almost immediately, Leinster appear to have left themselves in a major hole as back row Miller gets sent off. It’s a moment of hot-headedness from the 1997 Lion as he kicks out after being held by Foley.

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Referee Whitehouse sees it happen live right in front of him and has no hesitation in showing Miller a red card, much to Paul O’Connell’s approval.


Miller’s offence should also mean another three points for Munster but O’Gara produces an extremely uncharacteristic miss from just to the left of the posts.

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It’s a let-off and Leinster steady themselves thereafter as Spooner shows his class with some intelligent kicking from hand.

Williams’ men nearly make it to the half-time break trailing by a point but Munster, back to 15 men, strike in the 39th minute for their second try.

It starts with another Henderson quick-tap penalty.


Denis Hickie takes Henderson down just metres out from the Leinster tryline before outside centre John Kelly goes close off an inviting O’Gara pass.

Munster score on third phase as another excellent pass by O’Gara sends wing O’Neill over in the corner.

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O’Gara’s conversion attempt slips wide to the left but Munster lead 12-6 heading into the half-time break.

With Miller sent off, it looks like an uphill battle for Leinster and it becomes an even bigger task when O’Gara slots a penalty early in the second half for 15-6.


Leinster need the next score but they waste a couple of promising opportunities in the Munster 22 as Horgan and then  O’Driscoll kick the ball away.

Spooner nails a penalty in the 50th minute, but is soon wide with an attempt from 45 metres out. 

As the game ticks into the final quarter, Munster’s inability to shake off Leinster is clear. Williams’ side, despite their numerical disadvantage, are gritty and earn another penalty for Spooner to slot from out on the left.

And then, suddenly, Leinster are in front as they strike brilliantly over two phases on kick return. Ireland wing Hickie makes crucial gains up the left-hand side initially, beating O’Neill as he takes the ball into the Munster half.


Leinster then sweep the ball back to their right and openside flanker Keith Gleeson intelligently assesses the situation.

Gleeson recognises that Munster replacement front row Martin Cahill is in the defensive line in front of him, as his team-mates outside worry about Gleeson passing wide to the right.


With O’Meara finding him with an accurate 15-metre pass and Munster centre Kelly drifting off him, Gleeson backs himself to get outside Cahill.

The Munster hooker does work hard to get across to Gleeson, but the Leinster flanker is able to fend him and offload to Horgan steaming up on his outside shoulder.


Horgan shows composure in behind the defence and rather than kicking this time, he draws in Prendergast and cleverly passes in behind Munster left wing Anthony Horgan for D’Arcy to finish.

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21-year-old D’Arcy is able to celebrate putting Leinster back in front, with Spooner converting for 19-15.

Munster are reeling and Leinster finish the job with a second stunning try, this time from a lineout.

Again, Spooner’s influence is key as he makes the initial linebreak, beating Foley on the outside and then offloading to O’Driscoll when Kelly tackles him from behind.

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O’Driscoll scorches clear and is faced with backfield defenders O’Neill and Mike Mullins, who are well-positioned to tackle him.

O’Driscoll identifies the space in behind and decides to chip over the top, showing good control not to hoof it too far ahead.

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O’Driscoll shows his pace to get in front of O’Neill and then nudges the ball with his left foot before he is hauled down for what might have been a penalty try, only that Horgan follows up and takes advantage of the wicked bounce of the ball to stretch out, gather it, and gleefully dot down.

It’s a sensational score from 14-man Leinster and though Spooner can’t convert, it leaves them 24-15 ahead.

Munster did score a consolation try through Horgan but it was too little, too late.

Corrigan and co. celebrate. 

Leinster: Girvan Dempsey; Denis Hickie, Brian O’Driscoll, Shane Horgan, Gordon D’Arcy; Nathan Spooner, Brian O’Meara; Reggie Corrigan (captain), Shane Byrne, Paul Wallace; Leo Cullen, Malcolm O’Kelly; Eric Miller, Keith Gleeson, Victor Costello.

Replacements: Gavin Hickie, Peter Coyle, Bob Casey, Trevor Brennan, Ben Willis, Peter McKenna, Adam Magro.

Munster: Dominic Crotty; John O’Neill, John Kelly, Rob Henderson, Anthony Horgan; Ronan O’Gara, Mike Prendergast; Marcus Horan, Frankie Sheahan, Peter Clohessy; Mick Galwey (captain), Paul O’Connell; Jim Williams, Alan Quinlan, Anthony Foley.

Replacements: James Blaney, Martin Cahill, Mick O’Driscoll, Colm McMahon, Derek Hegarty, Jason Holland, Mike Mullins.

Referee: Nigel Whitehouse [WRU].

Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman, and Gavan Casey field listeners’ questions about Ireland’s victory over England, discuss Super Rugby in the Pacific Islands, prospective law trials up north, and this weekend’s Pro14 final between old rivals.

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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