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Munster set for away URC quarter-final as Leinster prove too strong at the Aviva

Johann van Graan’s side will travel to play Ulster while Leinster will host Glasgow Warriors in the last eight.

Leinster’s Rory O’Loughlin celebrates scoring a try with teammates.
Leinster’s Rory O’Loughlin celebrates scoring a try with teammates.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster 35

Munster 25

MUNSTER WILL BE on the road for their United Rugby Championship quarter-final after a much-changed Leinster team proved too strong for Johann Van Graan’s side at the Aviva Stadium.

Johann van Graan’s side will now travel to play Ulster in Belfast for a place in the semi-finals, while Leinster can look forward to a home tie against Glasgow Warriors, with the fixtures set to be played on the weekend of 3-5 June.

The remaining quarter-final fixtures will see the Stormers host Edinburgh while the Sharks travel to play the Bulls.

Having made wholesale changes to their matchday squad ahead of next weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup final date with La Rochelle, a youthful Leinster team underlined the quality available to Leo Cullen and Co with a performance full of fight and quality moments, making it an extremely uncomfortable evening for a Munster side which contained 11 of the team that started against Toulouse at this stadium two weeks ago.

Around 15 minutes before kick-off in Dublin 4, Munster received confirmation of exactly what they needed to do in order to secure that all-important home quarter-final; the Stormers’ bonus-point 26-21 win at Scarlets meaning van Graan’s side needed a bonus-point win to finish second in the table, while victory of any shape would be enough to secure a home quarter-final. 

It was a big ask. Munster’s last win against their biggest rivals at this stadium came back in 2014.

Leinster on the other hand had nothing tangible to play for in terms of their standing in the URC table, their focus all geared towards next weekend’s European decider in Marseille.

However in opting for a youthful selection, Leo Cullen ensured the league leaders sent out a team of players keen to impress on what was still a big occasion at the Aviva Stadium, with 32,411 spectators in attendance.

Still, all eyes were on Munster, and they made a disastrous start as the last few stragglers made their way towards their seats.

Ryan Baird – making his first appearance for the province since February – made a big carry to get Leinster up the pitch. The ball was moved infield towards Ciarán Frawley, who had a quick glance and clipped a perfectly weighted kick out wide in the direction of Scott Penny. Hugging the touchline, the Leinster flanker produced a winger’s finish to step Joey Carbery and cross for the game’s opening score. Harry Byrne sent the conversion wide, but with less than two minutes on the clock, Leinster led 5-0.

Munster needed to get a grip on the contest, but instead their discipline was offering Leinster further access. Dan Goggin went in off his feet to concede a third Munster penalty in quick succession. Byrne slotted the kick to push his team 8-0 clear.

Then the visitors came to life, a bit of pushing and shoving before a Munster lineout the first real sign they were up for a fight.

From the subsequent attack, following some close-range carries and good work by Carbery, Keith Earls produced a wonderful skip pass to take out two Leinster defenders and find Jack O’Donoghue, the Munster captain beating Rob Russell to put his team on the board. Carbery sent the conversion well wide, but Munster had found the quick response they needed.

jack-odonoghue-scores-a-try-despite-cormac-foley Jack O'Donoghue scored Munster's opening try. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

They soon had a second. After another good lineout Munster moved the ball infield and Mike Haley sensed opportunity at the breakdown, his clever pick-and-go under the posts making it a quickfire double. Carbery added the extras and after a breathless opening 20 minutes, Munster led 12-8.

Back over to Leinster, and a score that highlighted the quality available to the province even as their Champions Cup frontliners are watching on from the stands.

It all started with a classic marauding Jordan Larmour run, the returning Leinster fullback skipping past four defenders as he roamed infield and back out wide before finally being grounded. Leinster moved the ball into a central position, and a late change of direction from Jamie Osborne allowed him release his midfield partner Ciarán Frawley, who ran a brilliant line to break the Munster defence. He in turn fed Cormac Foley, who finished a fine team move. Byrne converted and Leinster moved three ahead.

Frawley’s evening was then cut short as he made way for Adam Byrne following a heavy knock to the head, the 24-year-old thankfully able to pick himself up and walk off following a lengthy stoppage. 

A series of breaks in play then took the sting out of the game, and Leinster were reduced to 14 men just before the break when Rob Russell saw yellow for a deliberate knockdown.

It took Munster just 40 seconds to open the scoring in the second period, Conor Murray flashing onto the loose ball and running in from close range after Jamie Osborne failed to collect a contestable kick. Carbery added his third conversion and Munster led 19-15.

joey-carbery-is-tackled-by-rory-oloughlin Rory O'Loughlin tackles Joey Carbery. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Byrne then pulled the deficit back to one point when Murray was pinged for a high tackle on Josh Murphy, as Russell returned to action to bring Leinster back to their full complement. 

At the other end, Carbery slotted his first penalty of the evening after a deliberate knock-on by Joe McCarthy, Leinster’s supporting numbers saving the lock from a possible yellow card.

Cullen then changed up his entire from row and got an instant response as replacement hooker John McKee charged at the Munster line from the back of a powerful maul. The maul was eventually dragged down and referee Frank Murphy awarded a penalty try as Niall Scannell was sent to the bin.

It went from bad to worse for Van Graan’s charges. Larmour went on another mazy run which dragged Munster out of shape, and Leinster kept the tempo up with a series of quick passes as they shifted the ball out to the left flank. Max Deegan’s excellent pass found Rory O’Loughlin, who had the speed and power to run in a fourth Leinster try, and move them 10-points clear approaching the closing 20 minutes.

rory-oloughlin-on-his-way-to-scoring-a-try-despite-keynan-knox-and-mike-haley Leinster's Rory O’Loughlin on his way to scoring a try despite Keynan Knox and Mike Haley of Munster Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The frantic pace continued, and Earls thought he had found another quick reply for Munster, only for the score to be crossed off due to a forward pass.

A second Carbery penalty cut the deficit to seven points.

As it stood, Munster sat sixth in the table and were set for an away quarter final. The next 15 minutes had the potential to make or break their season.

Instead it was Leinster who continued to press home their advantage, Harry Byrne slotting another penalty to restore their lead to 10 points with 10 to play.

Munster had their chances in the closing stages but couldn’t find the necessary quality. Jack Daly had the tryline in his sights but was tackled out of play by Osborne. Ben Healy then spun a long pass out to O’Donoghue but the Munster captain spilled the ball forward. It was that kind of night for Munster.

Given the talent and experience in their squad, this will represent a deeply frustrating defeat for the province. They now face a difficult trip to play Ulster in the quarter-finals, while Leinster will enjoy home advantage against Glasgow.

Leinster’s double drive looks in good health, with the URC Irish Shield already in the bag, but Munster will have to do it the hard way if they are to finally end their long wait for some silverware. 

Leinster scorers:

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Try: Penny, Foley, penalty try, O’Loughlin.

Conversion: H Byrne [2/3]

Penalty: H Byrne [3/3]

Munster scorers:

Try: O’Donoghue, Haley, Murray

Conversion: Carbery [2/3]

Penalty: Carbery [2/2]

LEINSTER: Jordan Larmour; Rob Russell, Jamie Osborne, Ciaran Frawley (Adam Byrne 27), Rory O’Loughlin; Harry Byrne (David Hawkshaw, 77), Cormac Foley (Ben Murphy, 59); Ed Byrne (captain) (Peter Dooley, 50), Sean Cronin (John McKee, 50), Thomas Clarkson (Cian Healy, 50); Joe McCarthy (Alex Soroka, 66), Josh Murphy (Devin Toner, 56); Ryan Baird, Scott Penny, Max Deegan.

Yellow card: Russell 39

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway (Ben Healy, 64), Chris Farrell, Dan Goggin (Rory Scannell, 57), Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray (Paddy Patterson, 76); Josh Wycherley (Jeremy Loughman, 57), Niall Scannell, John Ryan (Keynan Knox, 57); Jean Kleyn (Jason Jenkins, 49), Thomas Ahern (Jack Daly, 64-75); Fineen Wycherley, Alex Kendellen, Jack O’Donoghue (captain).

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Jason Jenkins.

Yellow card: Niall Scannell 52 

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)

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About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy  / Reports from the Aviva Stadium

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