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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 13 April 2021


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Afternoon all and welcome to the first of this afternoon’s liveblog double-header. As sporting double-whammys go, it doesn’t really get much better than this. Munster versus Leinster, followed by Manchester United versus Barcelona. If I have to occasionally pause to wipe the saliva from my slobbering chops, please forgive me.

We’ve less than a half-an-hour to go until kick-off in Thomond Park. I’ll have the team news for you in a second.

Here are your teams:

Munster: Jones; Howlett, Barnes, Mafi, Earls; O’Gara, Murray; Horan, Varley, Hayes; O’Callaghan, O’Connell (c); Ryan, Wallace, Coughlan.

Leinster: Nacewa; Horgan, O’Driscoll, McFadden, Fitzgerald; Sexton, Reddan; van der Merwe, Strauss, Ross; Cullen (c), Hines; O’Brien, Jennings, Heaslip.

There you have them. Tony McGahan names an unchanged side from the semi-final victory over Ospreys a fortnight ago, while Joe Schmidt makes three changes from last weekend’s Heineken Cup winning XV.

Fergus McFadden comes in to the centre for the injured Gordon D’Arcy, Heinke van der Merwe gets the nod ahead of Cian Healy in the front row, and Shane Jennings is named in the back row with Kevin McLaughlin dropping to the bench.

Over on the Facebook page earlier today, we asked you to predict the Magners League / Champions League double. At the moment, the Leinster backers are far outweighing those in the blue corner, but there’s still time to change that. Head over to Facebook and have your say.

Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that this is more than your average Magners League Final. Heck, it’s more than your average Munster versus Leinster match.

Joe Schmidt’s men come to Thomond Park with history in their sights. A win today would see them become the first ever side to do the Magners League / Heineken Cup double. Something tells me that Munster won’t be too happy to see their provincial rivals do that on their doorstep.

For Munster, today is not only about denying Leinster – it’s also a chance for redemption at the end of a disappointing season by the province’s own high standards.

Tony McGahan’s men have been like Jekyll and Hyde this year, pairing brilliant domestic form with some disappointing showings in the Heineken Cup. It killed them to lose in the Amlin semis against Harlequins here a few weeks back, so expect them to come out and do this one for the Thomond Park faithful.

As always, we want to hear your thoughts on today’s action. How’s it all going to go down? E-mail, send us a tweet @thescore_ie, find us on Facebook, or leave a comment in the comments field below.

What’s that? You want to know what I think? Well, here’s the preview which I penned earlier this morning.

Munster are not quite the spent force which many would have you believe, but the Leinster panel has a strength in depth that is the envy of every side in Europe, never mind Ireland. If the visitors can stay strong mentally, they should have enough in hand to see them through.

I’m going for Leinster by five(ish) points for what it’s worth.

We’re off. Leinster playing from right to left in this first half. Nigel Owens is the man in the middle.

I should say, Thomond Park is absolutely buzzing. The Munster crowd have turned out in huge numbers to get behind their team. I wonder if that could be the key difference come the final whistle …

A very positive start by Munster with Felix Jones taking them onto the Leinster 22. Leinster’s counter-rucking is as good as ever though. They turn the ball over and Reddan, aided by the strong wind, kicks it away deep into Munster territory.

Munster are penalised on the half-way line for rucking off their feet. Sexton judges the wind and decides that this is worth a go. Ambitious.

MISSED PENALTY! You can hear a pin drop around Thomond Park as Sexton lines up the penalty. The out-half tries to absolutely welly it, but it skews horribly off the outside of his boot, dropping far short of the line.

It’s all gone a little bit sloppy in midfield. Leinster win their third turnover of the game but give it straight back to Munster. Doug Howlett breaks down the right flank, haring after his own grubber. Sexton gets back in time to collect just short of the line and is under pressure to deal with it, but Howlett holds him the tackle and concedes a rather needless penalty. Let off for Leinster there.

Another cracking piece of play by Howlett. He tries the exact same tactic, knocking a grubber down the right touchline. This time, it’s Nacewa who gets across to defend, sheparded out of play by Howlett for a Munster line-out.

TRY! Munster (Howlett, 12′) Munster’s early pressure pays off, and it’s a lovely little combination between Mafi and Howlett which does the business. As the ball is worked wide from the middle, Mafi confuses Reddan with a lovely little goose-step before offloading to Howlett who crosses in the corner.

O’Gara’s conversion attempt is far from easy with a strong wind in his face, but he punches it low over the bar. Munster 7-0 Leinster

The Leinster scrum hasn’t really been the most solid so far and Nigel Owens is in no mood for messing. He gives the Leinster front-row one chance to get it right and, when they go down rather easily the second time, he awards the penalty against them. O’Gara kicks into the Leinster half which relieves the immediate pressure.

A great line-break by Jennings allows him to set Cullen and then McFadden free. Leinster make their way into the 22 and, though the Munster forwards manage to wrestle the ball from Heaslip in the ruck, they are penalised by Nigel Owens.

Sexton opts for the corner rather than the posts, a positive decision which ultimately proves to be a mistake. O’Connell outjumps Hines to win the lineout and the ball is back in Munster hands.

Another beautiful passage of play by Munster comes to nothing. Mafi’s show-and-go gives him the half-yard he needs to set Horan free. The prop quickly flicks it back inside to Felix Jones who is coming over his left shoulder but the ball is knocked backwards and Leinster get behind it in numbers.

One area that Joe Schmidt will be delighted with so far is his side’s counter-rucking. They win another turnover inside the 22 to deny Munster an attacking platform.

Leinster cobble together a really open attack which nearly yields a score for them. O’Driscoll hoofs one deep into Munster territory for Fitzgerald to chase and the winger just beats Doug Howlett to it. The ball finds its way to Reddan but Munster smother the danger.

PENALTY! Munster 7-3 Leinster (Sexton, 29′) Sexton slots a penalty from straight in front of the posts to get Leinster on the scoreboard.

A minute or so before, Marcus Horan cleaned Brian O’Driscoll out with an off-the-ball tackle which was missed by all of the officials. Nigel Owens has a rant at his touch judges for not spotting the incident in the first place.

A great tackle by Lifeimi Mafi forces O’Driscoll to knock the ball on. Mafi has been one of the first-half’s outstanding players in my book.

The medics come on to have a look at Damien Varley who seems to have lost a contact lens. I’m delighted, frankly, because it seems like the first break in play we’ve had in the last 35 minutes.

There hasn’t been an awful lot between the two sides in the scrum so far, but Munster get the benefit of the doubt on this occasion. Heinke van der Merwe is somewhat harshly penalised for dragging the scrum down and ROG kicks into the Leinster half.

Nathan Hines exacts a little bit of retribution on Horan after that cheap-shot on O’Driscoll earlier. He clears him out off the ball and is penalised for it, allowing O’Gara to kick to the corner. Two minutes left in this half, and a chance for some late Munster pressure.

Munster work the ball through the phases without making too much ground and, eventually, Murray pops it back to O’Gara in the pocket. He doesn’t quite catch his drop-goal attempt though and it falls short of the posts to end the half.

HALF-TIME: Munster 7-3 Leinster

I think it’s safe to say that Munster have had the better of the exchanges in what was a thoroughly entertaining first half. Still, there’s absolutely nothing in it and we’re in for another cracking 40 minutes of rugby after the break.

I’ll be back in a minute or two. Send me your thoughts and I’ll read them over a cup of tea.

We’re back underway. Let’s hope the second half is as intense as the first was.

Leinster begin the second half the way they finished the first – winning plenty of turnover ball at the breakdown. Munster’s early pressure is quickly turned into a flowing Leinster attack, O’Driscoll nearly setting Sexton free down the left touchline with a beautiful reverse pop.

Leinster need to come away with something here.

Leinster are held up three yards short of the line after 20 phases. Munster doing a great job of slowing the play down.

SIN BIN! (O’Callaghan, 48′) Heasip and Sexton nearly combine to finally cross the line on Leinster’s 25th phase but Donncha O’Callaghan concedes the penalty two yards short of the line and he’ll go to the bin for that.

Sexton lines up the penalty …

PENALTY! Munster 7-6 Leinster (Sexton, 49′) The out-half makes no mistake and sticks the ball between the uprights.

Considering the pressure and how close Leinster were to crossing the try line on a number of occasions, Munster will probably be happy that they’ve only conceded three rather than five or seven. They need to weather the Leinster storm with just 14 men for the next few minutes though.

Brian O’Driscoll has really come to life in this second half. He looks to make another big line break but is stopped by a cracking tackle by Felix Jones. Great play by the full-back.

Oh my, that is some quite sensational defensive work by Munster. Fergus McFadden is inches from crossing the line for Leinster but a combination of Wallace and Coughlan lift him and drive him out of a scoring position. Brilliant.

Shades of Rome, February 2011. Jonathan Sexton sends a high pass out to McFadden who is all on his own out on the line. If he catches it, he scores. It’s just that tiny bit too high though and slips through his despairing grasp.

Another cracking tackle from Felix Jones to put Luke Fitzgerald into touch as the winger tried to take advantage of their one-on-one on the wing. He’s put in some big hits today.

O’Callaghan is back from the bin and Munster return to full strength. They’ve done well to weather the storm for the last ten minutes.

PENALTY! Munster 7-9 Leinster (Sexton, 60′) The silence in Thomond Park is deafening once again, but it does nothing to disturb Jonny Sexton. He tucks his penalty inside the right upright and Leinster – who have been the better side in this second half – take a two-point lead.

That could be a crucial moment in the game. Munster have Leinster severely under the cosh, working the ball through 20+ phases of play yards from the line. Munster have numbers on the right and, as the ball is spun out to Howlett, Luke Fitzgerald steps up to the plate and puts in an absolutely bone-crunching tackle, forcing the knock-on. Incredible bravery from Fitzgerald.

A little bit of good fortune for Munster there as Leinster try to clear their lines. Wallace is clearly offside as the ball is fired back to Sexton in the pocket but he gets away with it and Sexton can only rush the ball into touch inside the 22.

TRY! Munster (Earls, 66′) A stunning piece of opportunism by Ronan O’Gara finally unlocks the Leinster defence. He plays a perfect cross-field kick into the arms of Keith Earls out on the left wing. Earls steps inside a scrambling Nacewa and evades the last-ditch tackle of Horgan to stretch his arm over the line. Great vision by O’Gara, wonderful finishing by the winger.

ROG misses the extra from a difficult angle. Munster 12-9 Leinster

Munster fans look on anxiously as ROG is treated by the medics. He took a huge hit as he tried to stop Isa Nacewa and doesn’t seem to know where he is for a minute or two.

He’s back on his feet now though and his first task will be to attempt a kick at goal from back near that half-way line …

MISSED PENALTY! (O’Gara, 71′) The penalty is lined up directly between the posts but O’Gara drags it just past the right hand post.

Ten minutes left and this is still a three-point game.

Munster smell blood as they set up their base deep inside the Leinster 22. A try here would surely spell the end of Leinster’s challenge.

Munster pick-and-go again and again as they try to make up those final three yards. Leinster have held them up for 20 phases now and, as the ball finds its way wide to John Hayes, the defenders somehow manage to knick it.

Ooooh, that would have been one of the season’s great tries by Dougie Howlett. He collected in midfield and skipped past Jamie Heaslip, causing the whole park to seemingly open up in front of him. Nacewa is the last man but, as Howlett tries to draw the tackle and feed Donncha Ryan, the ball goes to ground.

Leinster can’t clear their lines fully though and Munster are still in the ascendancy.

A phenomenal scrum by the Munster pack earns a penalty ten yards from the Leinster line. Unusually, they opt to take another scrum rather than go for the posts.

PENALTY TRY MUNSTER (79′)! Well that’s that – never again will I question Munster’s decision-making. Led by John Hayes, the front eight drive Leinster back under the posts and, as Coughlan tries to wheel off the back, the scrum collapses and Nigel Owens awards a try.

O’Gara tacks on the extras and it’s now Munster 19-9 Leinster.

Some late drama as Kevin McLaughlin stretches for the line. Man of the Match David Wallace might just have held him up though. Nigel Owens calls for the TMO …

NO TRY! Looks like McLaughlin didn’t quite make it so Nigel Owens brings it back for an earlier penalty. Leinster tap and go, but the 80 minutes are up here …

NO TRY! Back upstairs again, as Nathan Hines tries to go over in the other corner, but he was in touch first and that’s that.



So there you have it – a cracking game of rugby ends with a Munster win and, despite some pretty heavy Leinster pressure early in this second period, you have to say they deserved it.

David Wallace claims the Man of the Match gong on his 200th appearance for Munster, but Mafi and Jones are well-deserving of a mention in my book as well. Declan Kidney was in the stands today – could Jones have played himself into contention for a place on the plane to New Zealand?

That’s all from me. Adrian is waiting patiently to be tagged in. He’ll fulfill all of your Champions League requirements this evening. Hopefully it’s every bit as entertaining as this game was.

Thanks for stopping by. See you tomorrow for Tipp vs. Cork and Ireland vs. Scotland.

About the author:

Niall Kelly