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Leinster's double dream is on, semi-final pain for Munster and more RDS talking points

Leo Cullen’s side booked their place in next weekend’s Pro14 final with a thrilling inter-pro win.

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS 

LEINSTER BOOKED THEIR place in next Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 final with a hard-fought and tense 16-15 inter-pro victory over Munster at the RDS this afternoon. Our match report is here, and below we take a look at five key talking points from the semi-final.

That’s why Leinster are champions

Leinster players celebrate at the final whistle Leinster march on to the Aviva to face Scarlets. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

An utterly gripping, tension-laden arm-wrestle from start to finish, but in the end Leinster march on towards a first-ever double as their remarkable season scales new heights.

The home province appeared to have sealed victory with a bit to spare when Joey Carbery knocked over a penalty with only a few minutes left on the clock but this semi-final contest was to serve up one more twist, as Munster threw everything at the European champions.

Gerbrandt Grobler’s 79th minute score brought Johann van Graan’s side within a point but a frenetic final passage of play ended with replacement Max Deegan forcing a turnover in midfield, sparking jubilant scenes inside a sold-out RDS.

As is so often the case on big occasions like this, the margins were incredibly fine and Munster will look back on an error-strewn first-half performance with regret, while Leinster will feel they were far from their best, too.

But ultimately the hosts’ big-made nous, experience and mettle saw them over the line after Jack Conan’s early try had put them in front and they never relinquished the lead from there, with a historic Champions Cup-Pro14 double now just one win away.

The players spoke all week about turning the page and bringing the same hunger and intensity to this game as they did in Bilbao seven days ago, and they certainly turned up, expending every last sinew to edge past their provincial rivals with the likes of Rob Kearney, Dan Leavy and Johnny Sexton watching from the stands.

It’s a measure of Leinster’s depth that they could introduce Deegan so late and the 21-year-old to have such a big role in forcing the result his side’s way.

Another brilliant instalment of this fiercely competitive rivalry.

Basic skills and indiscipline lets Munster down

Keith Earls after the game Keith Earls' early second-half try gave Munster hope. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Munster’s season comes to a bitterly disappointing end with more semi-final pain and the reaction of those in red at full-time spoke volumes, with many out on their feet and others left dejected as they applauded the large number of travelling supporters.

After defeat to Racing in Bordeaux a couple of weeks ago, Munster dearly wanted to put their knockout record right here, and no better place to do it against the newly-crowned European champions — but basic errors and a lack of discipline cost the visitors dearly, with Leinster’s clinical edge a big point of difference.

Since lifting the Pro12 title back in 2011, Munster have now lost one quarter-final (in Europe), seven semi-finals (four in Europe) and two finals, both of which have been league deciders.

Overall, a record of 10 defeats in 15 knockout games is a bitter pill to swallow and a real issue for Munster as they have frequently walked away from these big games with plenty of regrets.

Here, it was their poor execution of basic skills, particularly in the first half, which let them down as final passes didn’t go to hand, most notably when Simon Zebo had created the space with an arching run for Keith Earls on the left, only for the pass to go into touch.

Munster conceded 14 penalties to Leinster’s six and there was some curious decision making from both sides, particularly when the visitors turned down a shot at goal with 12 minutes remaining and they then left the Leinster 22 with nothing to show for their efforts, as James Tracy turned the ball over.

It was, however, a spirited second-half display from Munster and while this will be another major disappointment to overcome, they can take positives from the way they very nearly snatched an unlikely win at the death.

Van Graan and his players have huge work to do this summer.

Lowe the magician

James Lowe with Sammy Arnold Lowe was on top form this afternoon. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It didn’t take long for this semi-final to turn into the James Lowe show, as the Kiwi once again showed why he is pure box-office, wasting little time in making his mark after sitting out last weekend’s Champions Cup final.

Not only did he run over Zebo once, but stood the Munster fullback down a second time in the same move, which resulted in Conan crashing over under the posts to set Leinster on their way.

James Ryan’s thunderous midfield hit on James Cronin forced the turnover, Lowe was released down this near side and after the Kiwi let Zebo know all about his pace and power, Tadhg Furlong’s ferocious and emphatic ruck hit cleared Andrew Conway out.

From there, Leinster recycled and deft hands from Jack McGrath sent the freewheeling winger through again, steamrolling past Zebo and although he lost his footing close to the line, Lowe saved the best until last with an audacious one-handed offload inside for the offloading Conan.

It was absolute magic from Lowe, and utterly clinical from Leinster so early in the piece.

Lowe’s battle with Conway was a fascinating match-up and a piquant subplot to a thrilling game, with the Leinster man showing his aerial prowess on several occasions in the second half, each time relieving the pressure on his side.

The man for the big occasion, if ever there was one.

Kleyn’s moment of madness

Jean Kleyn after receiving a yellow card Kleyn was sent to the bin just before half-time. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Big moments decide big games, and while it could have been a whole lot worse for Munster in the shape of a red card, Jean Kleyn’s moment of madness came at a critical juncture in proceedings.

The South African second row was incredibly unfortunate not to be sent off by referee Stuart Berry for a recklessly dangerous clear out of Ross Byrne in the build-up to CJ Stander being held up on the line by frantic Leinster defence.

It looked as if Munster would have a five-metre scrum but instead the TMO was called on to review the incident, with footage clearly showing Kleyn made head-on-head contract with the Leinster out-half at ruck time.

Berry and his TMO, Neil Paterson, decided the offence only warranted yellow, but it could, and probably should, have been more, with Kleyn able to return to the action shortly into the second half, at which point Munster had reduced the deficit to two points through Keith Earls’ score.

Scarlets await

Jordan Larmour and Garry Ringrose celebrate winning a penalty Leinster march on into another final. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

No team had ever won an away Pro14 semi-final before last year, but after last night’s dismantling of Glasgow Warriors, Scarlets have achieved the feat back-to-back and await the eastern province in next weekend’s Aviva Stadium showdown.

It is, of course, a repeat of last month’s Champions Cup semi-final at the same venue, a contest dominated by Leinster as Cullen’s men flexed their considerable muscle to completely eviscerate the Welsh region.

So Wayne Pivac’s side will have revenge on their minds when they make the trip back over to Dublin for their second consecutive appearance in the league decider, as they look to become just the second side — after Leinster in 2012/13 and 2013/14 — to defend their title.

It is set up to be a big finale to the season, with two of the league’s most entertaining sides ready to go head-to-head with the Pro14 crown on the line.

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Leinster edge thrilling clash with Munster to secure Pro14 final against Scarlets

As it happened: Leinster v Munster, Pro14 semi-final

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Ryan Bailey

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