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Dublin: 15°C Monday 14 June 2021

O'Loughlin on the double as Leinster inflict more Aviva Stadium pain on Munster

The scoreboard will suggest a tight contest but Leinster proved far too strong again for their southern rivals.

O'Loughlin celebrates his first try.
O'Loughlin celebrates his first try.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Leinster 23

Munster 17

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium 

WHILE MUNSTER CAN put the wounding defeats to Saracens and then Scarlets on this ground down to being outclassed by a far superior team on the day, this defeat — their fourth at the Aviva Stadium in 12 months — is altogether more concerning.

As much as Leinster deserve credit for being far more clinical, accurate and disciplined, the southern province were largely architects of their own downfall as their wretched recent record in Dublin continued thanks to another disappointing performance.

The scoreboard will suggest it was a tight inter-provincial derby, but the reality was that Munster, once again, didn’t come close to throwing or landing a punch as Rory O’Loughlin’s first-half brace and man-of-the-match Johnny Sexton steered the hosts to a valuable win a week out from the start of the Champions Cup.

In slotting over a second-half penalty, Sexton became Leinster’s all-time record points scorer, overtaking the 1,225 amassed by Felipe Conetpomi. It was also fitting that he would reach the landmark in this fixture, given he came of age in that famous Heineken Cup semi-final win at Croke Park in 2009.

Keith Earls, on his first appearance of the season, continued his prolific try-scoring form with a double of his own but Munster were outplayed and outfought in front of 46,374 at a ground which has become something of a graveyard for them.

Their last victory here was back in October 2014 and although they found themselves level at 7-7 after half an hour of a tight contest, Rassie Erasmus’ side never looked like threatening to make a real game of it. There were striking similarities with the corresponding fixture last year, a game Leinster won 25-14.

The margin of defeat was six points here, and that was down to a late flurry which saw Earls go over in the corner and Munster launch a desperate attempt to snatch victory from deep. They can at least draw a positive from emerging with a losing bonus point.

But an untried and untested backline failed to fire with any sort of cohesion and Ian Keatley’s loose kicking game cost the visitors dearly as Leinster dominated up front and seized their opportunities.

Johnny Sexton kicks a penalty to become the all time leading Leinster point scorer Sexton was named man-of-the-match for the second game running. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It’s now five wins from six for Leinster in the Pro14 and they head into next week’s visit of Montpellier on the back of a useful workout which will be seen as another step in the right direction. Munster, meanwhile, head to Castres hoping they can find solutions and find them quickly.

That said, they started the brighter, with Keatley and Tyler Bleyendaal showing a first glimpse of what they’d offer in a potentially backline. There was early promise, too, with Andrew Conway raiding down the right and JJ Hanrahan slotting in at first receiver.

The opening exchanges were inevitably frenetic with Chris Farrell’s mighty hit on James Tracy in midfield just one of countless big collisions, before Sexton launched an aerial bombardment on Munster’s back three.

Earls was far from convincing under the high ball and although it took Adam Byrne until the fourth attempt to time his jump and gather cleanly, the Leinster captain didn’t need a second invitation to go skywards at every opportunity.

He did so four times inside the opening 10 minutes and another three occasions before the interval thereafter, with Leinster’s second score coming from Byrne’s tap-down on the right wing.

From there, Leinster changed the point of attack and stretched Munster with Sexton’s loop of Tadhg Furlong creating the overlap for Joey Carbery to send O’Loughlin over after 34 minutes.

While the Leinster centre had the straightforward task of adding the finishing touches, the first try was all his own making.

After a period of sustained blue pressure, O’Loughlin showed strength and good awareness to spin through a weak John Ryan tackle and roll over the line despite the efforts of CJ Stander and Robin Copeland.

Four minutes previous, Leinster’s defence looked similarly vulnerable as Earls slalomed and dummied his way through the gaping hole in midfield, not unlike the way he tore USA and Japan apart during Ireland’s summer tour, only for the Munster celebrations to be eventually cut short when the referee realised Farrell’s pass was forward in the build-up.

Ben Whitehouse was asking his TMO for more assistance shortly after when Niall Scannell’s deliberate knock-on on halfway halted a sweeping Leinster move and with blue shirts and space out wide, the Munster hooker had to go to the bin.

Adam Byrne competes for a high ball with Ian Keatley Byrne was king of the contestables. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

But the visitors managed to find a route back into the game during Kilcoyne’s time on the sidelines, with Keatley pouncing to race home from 40 metres out when Sexton’s pass eluded Henshaw’s grasp.

The Munster out-half added the extras but his overall kicking game was poor, often inviting pressure on his side, and after O’Loughlin had given Leinster a 14-7 half-time advantage, it was no surprise to see Erasmus call Keatley ashore and shift Hanrahan into 10.

Even with the change, Munster lacked any sort of fluidity in attack and save for a short period in the second half when they applied a semblance of pressure on the Leinster line, they were devoid of ideas and penetration in an otherwise blunt performance.

Earls was the one standout performer. A sixth try in his last five games for both province and country kept the contest alive during a horribly disjointed second half with Sexton’s three penalties enough to see Leinster over the line.

Firstly, Farrell was penalised in his own 22 for a high tackle on Carbery and the Leinster and Ireland out-half duly called for the tee to slot over a record-breaking penalty.

Tommy O’Donnell’s powerful and blistering break from his own half had Leinster scrambling and although Carbery did enough to stop the flanker in his tracks, he had the wherewithal to send Earls away in the corner — and his second in the closing stages added gloss to the scoreboard.

It only offered Munster and their travelling band of supporters false hope, as they hit the road home wondering what it is about this ground that causes their side to produce such sub-standard performances. The Aviva curse continues.

Leinster scorers:
Tries: Rory O’Loughlin [2]
Conversions: Johnny Sexton [2 from 2]
Penalties: Johnny Sexton [3 from 3]
Munster scorers:Tries: Ian Keatley, Keith Earls [2]
Conversions: Ian Keatley [1 from 1], JJ Hanrahan [0 from 2]

LEINSTER: 15. Joey Carbery, 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Rory O’Loughlin, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. Barry Daly (Fergus McFadden 70′), 10. Johnny Sexton (captain) (Ross Byrne 76′), 9. Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park 61′); 1. Jack McGrath (Cian Healy 48′), 2. James Tracy (Sean Cronin 48′), 3. Tadhg Furlong (Michael Bent 48′), 4. Devin Toner, 5. Scott Fardy (Ross Molony 69′), 6. Rhys Ruddock (Jordi Murphy 61′), 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jack Conan.

MUNSTER: 15. JJ Hanrahan, 14. Andrew Conway, 13. Chris Farrell, 12. Tyler Bleyendaal (Rory Scannell 65′), 11. Keith Earls, 10. Ian Keatley (Alex Wootton 45′), 9. Conor Murray (Duncan Williams 73′); 1. Dave Kilcoyne (Liam O’Connor 67′), 2. Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall 66′), 3. John Ryan (Stephen Archer 45′), 4. Robin Copeland (Mark Flanagan 68′), 5. Billy Holland, 6. Peter O’Mahony (captain), 7. Tommy O’Donnell (Jack O’Donoghue 63′), 8. CJ Stander.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse.

Attendance: 46, 374.

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Ryan Bailey

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