Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Leinster's Dan Sheehan scores a try.
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Leinster hold off spirited Munster challenge in gripping URC derby
The home team had to work hard for the win against a Munster side missing a number of key players.

Leinster 27

Munster 13

ANOTHER DERBY WIN for Leinster, but this was more like the Leinster-Munster contests of old as the home side were made to work hard against a youthful, spirited Munster team who showed further signs of progression under new head coach Graham Rowntree. 

Ultimately Munster leave Dublin empty-handed again but their supporters who made the trip up will take plenty of encouragement from the fight their side brought to this gripping URC tie. Missing a string of senior players, Munster’s emerging young players stood up and provided further evidence they deserve to be backed by Rowntree in the weeks and months ahead.

Both sides will find fault with areas of their performance but the depth of quality available to Leo Cullen eventually told in the second half as the injury count rose for Munster.

Cullen’s team was sprinkled with internationals who will be back on the pitch for the visit of the Springboks in two weeks’ time, but much of their best work was down to the energy and decision-making of scrum-half Luke McGrath. 

Not for the first time this season, Leinster were forced into a late change when Tadhg Furlong pulled out with what was described as ‘a minor ankle injury.’ With that date with South Africa on the horizon, Andy Farrell will be anxiously awaiting a further update. The Ireland head coach was in attendance in Dublin 4 and he’ll also have been concerned to see Joey Carbery forced off midway through the second half.

The 45,000 in attendance were treated to a gripping contest between these great rivals, one of the most compelling meetings between the two in recent memory.

Leinster made their intent clear right from the off, McGrath opting for a quick tap after the home side forced an early turnover penalty. With a minute on the clock, they were camped on the Munster line, but their explosive start to the game ended with former Munster lock Jason Jenkins being held up over the line.

Leinster were soon back in the Munster 22 and Johnny Sexton should have put the host 3-0 up with a fifth-minute penalty, but the out-half surprisingly dragged his shot left and wide.

thomas-ahern-celebrates-a-turnover Dan Sheridan / INPHO Munster’s Thomas Ahern celebrates a turnover Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Sexton’s uncharacteristic inaccuracy would soon become the overarching theme of Leinster play across the opening quarter.

Another promising attack in the 10th minute broke down as Sexton dropped the ball deep in Munster territory. Cian Healy had been guilty of a similar error minutes earlier. 

After surviving that early wave of Leinster pressure, Munster finally found a way into the 22 themselves but it ended with a Leinster penalty following good defensive work by James Ryan.

At the opposite end, Leinster threatened again, piecing together a lovely flowing backline move off a lineout, switching the ball from one wing to the other before Jamie Osborne burst down the touchline and tried to play in McGrath, but Munster pair Shane Daly and Dan Goggin did well to scramble back and intercept the ball between them. 

With 20 minutes on the clock, Joey Carbery was then handed a chance to put the visitors ahead after Jason Jenkins was pinged for diving on the ball, but the former Leinster man saw his effort sail wide.

The next passage of play offered Carbery a second chance at the posts and this time he made no mistake.

Then Leinster kicked into life again, Ciarán Frawley — starting at fullback — bursting from deep and skinning Carbery with a sublime dummy before feeding McGrath, who soon found himself smothered by red jerseys. 

caelan-doris-is-tackled-by-diarmuid-barron-and-jean-kleyn Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Leinster's Caelan Doris is tackled by Diarmuid Barron and Jean Kleyn of Munster. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

That good defensive work was then undone as Keynan Knox crashed into Ryan with his forearm, a verdict of yellow card quickly following.

It triggered Leinster’s entry into the game. Caelan Doris peeled off the scrum and carried hard, Leinster recycling the ball quickly before Scott Penny showed impressive strength to charge in under the posts. Sexton converted and with 12 minutes to go until half-time, Leinster led by five.

While Munster’s attack had yet to click into gear, the province’s young players were adding energy to their play and their general physicality around the park was causing Leinster problems. After a tepid start to the season, Munster looked keen to build on last weekend’s encouraging display against the Bulls, and their aggression and intent played their part in some of those Leinster errors.

Leinster’s messy start at the setpiece continued when Michael Ala’alatoa was pinged for collapsing the scrum, a decision met with a hearty roar by Munster lock Tom Ahern. 

Munster pushed into the Leinster 22 and Doris coughed up another penalty, which allowed Carbery cut the deficit to one.

Leinster should have had an instant reply but a smart attacking move ended with two errors in quick succession. First Osborne carried into contact when he had support, unmarked, on his left shoulder. Leinster still had possession yards from the try-line, but Osborne spilled the ball forwards after Healy put too much heat on his pass.

a-view-of-the-line-out Dan Sheridan / INPHO A view of the lineout. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Somehow Leo Cullen’s side came away empty-handed again.

However, Munster’s discipline came back to bite them on the backside again. Just after Knox returned to restore them to their full complement, Jean Kleyn clumsily crashed into Osborne late after the Leinster winger chipped over the top.

Down to 14 men again, Munster prepared for another big defensive shift.

There was just enough time for one more Leinster attack but Munster managed to hold Leinster out as Dan Sheehan tried to touch down after a strong driving maul.

A scrappy opening period ended with Leinster leading by one, and with a proper fight on their hands.

Munster had a massive opportunity to pull off a shock and the 14 men flew out of the traps after the break.

Gavin Coombes got his boot to a loose ball and hounded down Jimmy O’Brien. Munster arrived in numbers to win the ball and pushed upfield, before slinging it from right to left, Coombes getting back on the ball and firing a pass out wide to his cousin, Liam, who crossed to put Munster ahead, Carbery adding the extras with a gorgeous conversion. 

Game on. But as the rain poured down, Leinster quickly moved back into the lead, with a try that was bread and butter for Cullen’s team, Sheehan peeling off a dominant maul to cross. Sexton’s conversion pushed his team a point clear.

Munster’s task was further complicated with the loss of Carbery and Liam Coombes, who both left the pitch with knocks in the 54th minute. Rowntree sent in 20-year-old Patrick Campbell for Coombes, with Ben Healy taking the reins at 10. One imagines Cullen’s decision to call Frawley from the action shortly after will be followed with a message of thanks from Andy Farrell. 

The visitors would need to be picture-perfect for the remaining 25 minutes but Sexton was able to add another three points after John Hodnett was penalised. 

Munster’s effort was beginning to show in their legs and just after the hour mark, Leinster pounced for what felt like a crucial score, McGrath taking possession from the maul and somehow squeezing through a sea of Munster bodies. Sexton was off target from the tee but Leinster now had a nine-point cushion as the game entered the final quarter.

Another test of Munster’s appetite for the fight. Healy kicked to the corner and they drove hard at the line but the ball was knocked forward. The first chorus of The Fields of Athenry crept up as the two packs set for the scrum.  

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At the second attempt, Leinster drove Munster back with Andrew Porter taking the plaudits, the resulting penalty met with a huge roar from the home crowd. That same scrum saw Jack O’Sullivan forced off with what appeared to be a knee issue.

Substitute Rob Russell wrapped up the win when he finished a fine team move that saw Garry Ringrose do brilliantly to play in Doris, who sent Russell over unchallenged in the corner for the bonus-point score. Ross Byrne’s conversion struck the post as some fans made their way to the exits.

They had been treated to a cracker. Leinster’s winning start to the new campaign continues, but Munster also did enough to suggest it could yet turn into an interesting season for Rowntree’s charges.  

Leinster scorers:

Tries – Penny, Sheehan, McGrath, Russell

Penalty – Sexton [1/2]

Conversions – Sexton [2/3], R Byrne [0/1]

Munster scorers:

Try – L Coombes

Penalties – Carbery [2/3]

Conversion – Carbery [1/1]

LEINSTER: Ciarán Frawley (Ross Byrne, 60); Jimmy O’Brien, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Jamie Osborne (Rob Russell, 38 HIA); Jonathan Sexton (captain), Luke McGrath (Nick McCarthy, 72); Cian Healy (Andrew Porter, 48), Dan Sheehan (John McKee, 80), Michael Ala’alatoa (Thomas Clarkson 71), Jason Jenkins (Ross Molony, 67), James Ryan; Max Deegan (Jack Conan, 54) Scott Penny, Caelan Doris. 

MUNSTER: Jack Crowley; Shane Daly, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell, Liam Coombes (Patrick Campbell, 54); Joey Carbery (Ben Healy, 54), Conor Murray (Paddy Patterson, 70); Jeremy Loughman, Diarmuid Barron, Keynan Knox (Dave Kilcoyne, 62); Jean Kleyn (Jack O’Sullivan, 50, Scott Buckley 70), Tom Ahern; Jack O’Donoghue (captain), John Hodnett (Dave Kilcoyne, 27-37), (Ruadhan Quinn 69), Gavin Coombes. 

Yellow cards: Knox 27, Kleyn 38

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU, 83rd league game) 

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