Leinster’s Joe McCarthy celebrates a turnover with Jason Jenkins and Scott Penny. Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Leinster edge Munster after gripping battle at Thomond Park

Three Harry Byrne penalties proved enough for Leo Cullen’s side in Limerick.

Munster 3

Leinster 9

ON A RAINY night in Limerick Munster and Leinster served up another absorbing URC derby encounter, with Leo Cullen’s side coming out on top after a pulsating 80 minutes at Thomond Park.

This was classic winter rugby, as wet and windy conditions led to a tight, at times error-ridden affair. It wasn’t pretty but the 25,600 who zipped up their raincoats for the night couldn’t take their eyes of it. The margin for error was minimal throughout and with no tries scored, both sides left points behind from the tee. However three Harry Byrne penalties proved enough as Leinster got the better of their fierce rivals for the second time in five weeks with a 9-3 victory.

Two of those penalties arrived in the first-half, but Byrne would have to wait until the final play of the night to add his third. Munster, for all their efforts, could only summon up one Jack Crowley penalty as the home team struggled to trouble their visitors in open play.

There was one late change to the Leinster team before kick-off with Jamison Gibson-Park dropping out of the starting 15. Luke McGrath took his place at scrum-half while Ben Murphy was added to the Leinster bench. Munster’s injury issues all arrived in-game as the province saw three players forced off over the course of the night.

It took Leinster less than a minute to take the lead, Byrne kicking an early three points after Munster were pinged for sealing off at the breakdown with just 17 seconds on the clock.

From there, a gripping contest unravelled as the challenging conditions caused issues for both sides.

Three minutes in, Crowley shaped up and delivered a kick which looked on course for a brilliant 50:22, only for the ball to bounce infield and all the way out on the dead ball line.

tom-ahern-with-max-deegan-in-a-line-out Munster’s Tom Ahern and Leinster's Max Deegan compete at the lineout. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Two minutes later, his opposite number was guilty of the same as Byrne also got his angles wrong.

Then things began to go wrong for Munster. Within 20 minutes the home side lost two of their starting front-rowers – captain Diarmuid Barron limping out after seven minutes as Eoghan Clarke was sent in for just his second cap, before Dave Kilcoyne followed for a HIA.

Their departures contributed to a fascinating battle at scrum-time, with Andrew Porter and Oli Jager the chief protagonists. 

After an excellent Munster defensive set 10 minutes in, it was Jager who took the plaudits for a scrum penalty win. 

Five minutes later Porter was in over Jack O’Donoghue at the breakdown to win a penalty which Byrne duly sent between the posts.

Despite the setbacks on the scoreboard, Munster were having some bright moments. A powerful carry from Alex Nankivell spurred the crowd on before Craig Casey had a snipe down the wing, the scrum-half unlucky to see a boot go into touch as he searched for a route to the tryline.

tom-ahern-celebrates-a-penalty Tom Ahern celebrates a penalty. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

Nankivell and Casey were both sharp but it was Munster fullback Simon Zebo who delivered the most electrifying moments in the opening period. Lining out for the first time since Munster’s trip to Dublin last month, Zebo – sporting a bandage on his head after a bang on the ground from Scott Penny’s boot – looked sharp in possession and delivered a superb try-saving tackle as Luke McGrath raced for the corner. 

With much of the game being played in the middle third, Munster’s task became more testing when Casey was sent to the bin for a tip-tackle on Jordan Larmour. From there Leinster went to the corner, but as the maul drove forward Munster held strong to hold them out and win the penalty. Given Munster’s troubles defending mauls recently, it felt a significant moment and elicited the biggest cheer of the night up to that point.

Another big cheer soon arrived when Nankivell got over Hugo Keenan and won the ball back as Leinster looked to build on a strong period of possession.

As half-time arrived, Munster held the momentum despite not having any points of the board.

They had a golden chance to change that early in the second period but Crowley dragged a kickable penalty wide of the right post. It wasn’t a night to be leaving points behind.

It was a blow for Munster and they were soon turning to their bench again after a concerning looking injury to Edwin Edogbo. The promising second row had enjoyed a good tussle with the excellent Joe McCarthy but left the pitch on a stretcher after appearing to twist his knee before carrying into contact. 

The plan was being ripped up but Munster were digging deep and hanging in. Finally, they halved Leinter’s lead when Crowley sank a long-range penalty just over 10 minutes into the second half. 

The penalty count continued to rise and each one felt more significant than the last. A Leinster win on halfway allowed them kick to the 22, where Rónan Kelleher threw to the front and Leinster moved deep into Munster territory. Leinster looked to turn the screw under the posts but somehow, Munster survived again, Tom Ahern winning the penalty on this occassion.

jack-conan-tackles-jack-crowley Leinster's Jack Conan tackles Jack Crowley of Munster. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

During the next passage of play McCarthy got over the ball but Byrne saw his penalty attempt strike the post. Minutes later he lined up a more inviting kick from the opposite flank, but again saw his kick fly wide. After a chaotic third quarter, Munster moved into the final 15 minutes still chasing that three-point lead.

It was set up for a blockbuster finish, Leinster’s position strengthened by the introduction of Dan Sheehan, Jason Jenkins, Ryan Baird and Will Connors.

Then Munster’s chance arrived. After winning a penalty just inside the Munster half, Crowley kicked deep into the Leinster 22. Ahern rose to win the ball in the air but the ball was knocked on and Leinster pushed their hosts back down the pitch.

That was the moment, and in the closing minutes Munster’s threat faded. They looked to find another late shot at glory but a big Leinster push at the scrum in the 75th minute sapped yet more energy out of Graham Rowntree’s team. 

Leinster’s next win at the scrum allowed Byrne try his luck again off the tee. This time, from right under the posts and with the clock in the red, he couldn’t miss. 

Munster scorers – 

Penalty: Crowley [1/2]

Leinster scorers –

Penalties: Byrne [3/5]

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Calvin Nash (Oli Jager 79) Antoine Frisch, Alex Nankivell (Seán O’Brien, 71), Shane Daly; Jack Crowley, Craig Casey (Paddy Patterson, 61); Dave Kilcoyne (Jeremy Loughman, 19 HIA), Diarmuid Barron (captain) (Eoghan Clarke, 7), Oli Jager (Stephen Archer, 66); Edwin Edogbo (Brian Gleeson, 50), Gavin Coombes; Tom Ahern, John Hodnett (Alex Kendellen, 70), Jack O’Donoghue.

Yellow cards: Casey 31, Loughman 78

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose (captain), Ciarán Frawley, Rob Russell; Harry Byrne, Luke McGrath; Andrew Porter (Ed Byrne, 75), Rónan Kelleher (Dan Sheehan, 59), Michael Ala’alatoa (Thomas Clarkson, 75); Ross Molony (Jason Jenkins, 59), Joe McCarthy; Max Deegan (Ryan Baird, 50), Scott Penny (Will Connors, 67) , Jack Conan.

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU) 

Attendance: 25,6000

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel