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Leinster have the classier touches in contrast to blunt, predictable Munster

The southern province were second best in the kicking game as they suffered another semi-final defeat.

THE STATS DON’T always tell us an accurate story but some from yesterday’s game in the Aviva Stadium accurately reflect what we all saw with our own eyes.

Keith Earls got the chance to make just one carry for one metre in Munster’s 13-3 defeat to Leinster, while Andrew Conway had only three carries for two metres before departing injured after 45 minutes.

Earls and Conway had shown their ability to beat defenders and finish superbly two weekends ago when Munster pushed Leinster close but this time around, their only real involvement was to chase box kicks with far less success than that previous meeting between the two sides.

Meanwhile, Leinster wings Hugo Keenan and James Lowe made six and seven carries, respectively, for a combined 70 metres. Their involvement was far more obvious and both made impacts defensively too.

While this game was obviously no classic, Leo Cullen’s Leinster were the team who delivered the classier, more skillful moments and their approach was in sharp contrast to a blunt Munster game plan that saw Conor Murray box-kick repeatedly – with a total of 15 box kicks from the men in red.

Leinster’s superb defence meant Munster struggled to win the gainline at all, but the southern province’s clear tactical plan to go to the box kick so early in possession and to execute the tactics so poorly was hugely dispiriting for the province’s supporters, who have been hoping to see Munster develop as a force in this kind of big game.

Leinster – who were short of their best – had all of the subtle, intelligent touches and this was underlined in the kicking game. They kicked 33 times to Munster’s 36 but got greater reward from smarter tactics.

A couple of contrasting examples from the two sides illustrate the point.

Munster are attacking just outside the Leinster 22 in the shot below, with Jordan Larmour [white] lined up behind the ball in the backfield as Niall Scannell [red] carries.

Mun

Munster are struggling to get over the gainline here as Leinster’s excellent defence does its thing.

Munster bounce back to their left but Will Connors – who had another superb game – chops in low on CJ Stander, opening up the chance for Scott Fardy to jackal and slow down Munster’s recycle.

Chop and Jackal

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While Fardy is doing so, Larmour has moved across in the Leinster backfield to cover his right-hand 15-metre channel in response to Munster moving play back to their left.

1

An eight-second ruck means Munster have plenty of time to plot their next move here – and see that Larmour is ideally set up in behind – but they simply kick the ball away to the Leinster fullback on the next phase.

Grubber

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Larmour can scoop the ball up without the kick chase – who don’t seem to have known a grubber kick was coming – directly on top of him.

While Hanrahan does follow up and ground Larmour, Leinster work back to secure the ball. Clearly, there’s a lack of joined-up thinking and communication from Munster here as they seem to run out of ideas after losing the gainline, then just kick the ball away.

Leinster make them pay over the next five minutes in a key passage of the game.

First, scrum-half Luke McGrath exits with a box kick and right wing Hugo Keenan makes an outstanding tackle to force a knock-on from Conor Murray.

HKeenan

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It’s a brilliant chase from Keenan, who delivered a strong performance that totally vindicated Leinster backing him to start – much like Larmour at fullback, Connors at openside, and Devin Toner in the second row. 

Keenan’s impactful tackle gives Leinster a scrum and they attack intelligently from the set-piece to manipulate the Munster defence.

As their pack provides a perfectly solid platform, Leinster use an attacking play that we have seen from the likes of the Crusaders in the past, as well as from Exeter Chiefs and Wasps in recent times.

Robbie Henshaw [white below] advances up as first receiver from McGrath’s pass, while Garry Ringrose [red] offers a hard, flat line outside Henshaw.

Scrum Play

Johnny Sexton [yellow] bounces out behind Ringrose to give Henshaw a chance to make the pass behind Ringrose, while blindside wing Keenan [pink] works very hard to get all the way around onto Sexton’s outside shoulder.

Even with the greasy ball, Leinster’s backs shows their class to execute.

Leinster

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Keenan getting off his wing leaves Munster’s Andrew Conway [red below] in a tricky spot as he has to turn in and tackle his opposite number.

AC

Sexton makes a good clearout on Damian de Allende at the breakdown and now Munster fullback Shane Daly [yellow below] has to close up from the backfield to the right edge as Leinster play to their left following the quick recycle.

Daly

Daly swinging up into the frontline defence in this manner means that Earls, out of shot above, has to shift across from the left in the backfield – so already Leinster have moved Munster’s backfield with a single phase.

After Henshaw carries on the left, Leinster play back infield for Caelan Doris to carry and we can see below that Daly [yellow] is beginning to drop into the backfield again.

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SD

Doris punches into the carry but it takes an excellent clearout from Connors and Toner to ensure Stander can’t earn a jackal turnover here, before we see a very smart kick from Sexton.

JS

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Having already been moved around by Leinster’s scrum attack, Munster’s backfield isn’t ideally set up, with Sexton identifying space behind Earls, who has swung back to the left-hand side of the Munster backfield.

It’s a brilliant kick from Sexton to make Earls react and move once again, this time forcing him to turn downfield and attempt to catch the ball coming from over his head.

Earls

Put into that testing position, Earls produces the error as he knocks-on and just 30 seconds after the previous scrum, Leinster get another one inside the Munster 22.

They turn that position into a scrum penalty, kick into the right corner and score a maul try through Ronan Kelleher directly from that lineout. It’s the only try of the game, built on the back of a smart scrum play and Sexton’s kick.

Let’s contrast Leinster’s use of that scrum just inside their own half with Munster’s tactics from a scrum later in the game.

Scrum

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This is different in being a left-hand-side scrum but that could actually give Munster more options if they look to use an eight-nine play off the base of the set-piece and get their excellent centres or wings into the game.

Instead, Munster leave the ball in the scrum, attempt to earn a penalty, see it rotate to their left and then opt for what is clearly a pre-called garryowen from Hanrahan.

Like several of their other kicks in this game, this kick is too long and allows Rory O’Loughlin – just on the pitch – a relatively easy catch. From a platform that might have offered a real attacking opportunity, Munster just hand the ball back to Leinster with a predictable kick.

There are several other examples in this game we could pick from to illustrate Leinster’s smarts – Sexton had a wonderful cross-field kick, while Ringrose intelligently grubber-kicked from inside his own half at one stage – or to underline Munster’s blunt approach to moving upfield by reverting to box kicks early in their possession.

But let’s finish with a passage that highlights Leinster’s greater skill level and smarts, as they attack from a lineout just outside the Munster 22 that Toner wins cleanly.

P1

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As we see above, Leinster’s first phase is effective as McGrath comes from the front of a 7+1 lineout and then skips Jack Conan, who has broken from the receiver position out over the 15-metre line, to find Henshaw running at Hanrahan.

The Leinster centre has the power to win the collision against the out-half, who Leinster cleverly target, and then we see an example of the Leinster forwards’ skill levels around the corner on phase two.

Fardy [yellow below], Toner [red], and Connors [white] are the key men in the next part of the set-piece attack as they come around the corner and look like they’re going to carry.

P2

We can see above that Doris [pink] and Kelleher [blue] are adding a bit of detail on the right as they present an option for Leinster to bounce back.

Instead of a simple carry around the corner, there is subtlety in Leinster’s play as Fardy gets on the ball and drops off a return pass behind Toner to McGrath coming on the loop.

Loop

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Having received the ball back from Fardy, McGrath then pulls a pass behind the decoy-running Connors, who interests the Munster defenders in front of him.

Leinster have bought themselves a bit of time on the ball now and after Sexton finds Ringrose, we see another intelligent kick from Leinster.

Ringrose

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Contrast this kick to the first grubber we saw from Munster.

Leinster are kicking before they have to kick. They’re kicking on their terms, with intelligent thinking behind the kick.

Their lineout play has cleverly manipulated the backfield as Daly [yellow below] has been forced to close up on the right edge of Munster’s defence, worried as he is about Ringrose passing to Leinster’s left.

SD

Now Daly is in the process of turning back and accelerating in reaction to Ringrose’s right-footed grubber kick, as Lowe [red] gets up towards top speed, having been on the same wavelength as his outside centre.

It’s obviously a skillful touch on the move from Ringrose, but an even more accurate kick could have resulted in a Leinster try here as Lowe edges ahead of the turning Daly on the chase.

The ball beats Lowe to the touchline, but Leinster still get a good outcome in pinning Munster into ‘coffin corner’ – where it’s generally difficult to exit from.

They do spoil the good work by closing the gap at the ensuing lineout to give up a free-kick but the previous passage underlines how Leinster had the classier, more intelligent moments in this game.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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