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Leinster march on to Glasgow but Munster face same old question

One Irish province advances into the Pro14 final as the other’s season comes to an end.

IT WAS TIGHT, tense, hard-fought, gripping and hard to call for 54 minutes.

But then the game was blown open by a fluid passage of Leinster attack that reminded you that there is a big gap between themselves and Munster.

It started with a thunderous maul up the right touchline, bringing an advantage that encouraged Leinster to play. 

James Lowe, Bryan Byrne, Scott Fardy and Rory O'Loughlin Leinster were the better team at the RDS. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ross Byrne threw a skip pass, Garry Ringrose’s catch-pass allowed Jordan Larmour to send James Lowe barrelling up the left wing.

Jack Conan picked a hole off that ruck to make 10 more metres, then Lowe got back on the ball to send Dave Kearney into another gap. Munster were now on the ropes and it was Byrne and Ringrose who sent the ball wide right.

This time, props Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong did a superb job of catching, drawing and passing to leave hooker Sean Cronin in position to step back inside the exposed Jean Kleyn and dive through Peter O’Mahony’s despairing tackle attempt to seal a sublime score.

It’s important to note that Munster were down to 14 players with Niall Scannell in the sin bin at the time but it was a wondrous score to break the game open.

“The front row do incredibly well the way they interlinked, one to three to two to score, which is always good,” said Leinster head coach Leo Cullen, while pointing out that it was a brilliant break from Cronin on a set-piece strike 10 minutes before that had resulted in Scannell being yellow-carded.

Leinster added a second try in the final minute of the game, James Lowe putting the icing on the cake, as they deservedly advanced into the Guinness Pro14 final, where they will face Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park next Saturday.

That the Warriors have home city advantage could be a decisive factor and Dave Rennie’s side have certainly given the impression in recent weeks that they are a team on a mission.

Leinster, though, have an opportunity to retain their Pro14 crown, which would go some way towards dampening the dejection that accompanied last weekend’s defeat to Saracens in the Heineken Champions Cup final.

Adam Hastings and Stuart Hogg celebrate after Kyle Steyn scored their sides fifth try Glasgow were superb against Ulster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Cullen knows his team weren’t at their best yesterday against Munster, but they leave themselves in position to finish this season with silverware.

Johann van Graan’s side, meanwhile, remain unable to leap the semi-final hurdle that brought them crashing to ground in the Champions Cup against Saracens this season too.

They had few complaints after coming out on the wrong end of the 24-9 scoreline in the RDS yesterday.

“You can’t come to somewhere like Leinster and concede 13 penalties, a lot of them in crucial moments as well, either kickable or we had them under pressure in their 22 and a big release valve,” said captain Peter O’Mahony afterwards.

“We were playing some great rugby as well. They certainly played well as well, I’m not taking away from that. Their ability to keep the ball going forward, certainly for some of those penalties we were under pressure, on the back foot, but some of them were silly as well. We don’t have any arguments.”

Though obviously frustrated and disappointed, O’Mahony refused to label this campaign as a poor one for Munster.

He and van Graan will look to the additions of Tadhg Beirne – still learning how to call lineouts at the highest level – and Joey Carbery – who was, unfortunately, missing through injury in recent times but returned yesterday – as having improved this squad.

While Leinster scrum-half Nick McCarthy is the only confirmed signing ahead of next season, van Graan has stated his belief that there is major room for growth in this squad. O’Mahony stressed that it’s not all doom and gloom.

“Look, we’ve had huge positives this year,” said the Ireland flanker.

Peter O'Mahony speaks to his teammates in the huddle after the game Peter O'Mahony speaks to his players after Munster's defeat. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We’ve taken big steps forward, as have other teams obviously. It would be a different animal me sitting here and we were out of Europe in the group stages and we didn’t progress in the latter stages of this [the Pro14].

“We’re doing a lot of things right, we just need to figure where we can get the extra 1% or 2%.”

And yet, the same old question remains – can Munster improve their attack?

It’s been the biggest issue for the province in recent years. They are capable of defending strongly, generally have a strong set-piece and work as hard as anyone, but their attack often comes up short.

Current backline/attack coach Felix Jones will now depart with Munster’s season over, as will forwards coach Jerry Flannery, and whoever van Graan finds to take on the attack role will be pivotal for the province as they look to progress.

Munster feel they have the players, the facilities, and the fanbase to win trophies, but it still feels like a key part of the jigsaw is missing.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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