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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 18 May 2021


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THE MOST ANTICIPATED Pro12 clash of the season finally arrived, as Leinster and Munster clashed in Dublin.

It was first against second in the league, making it a crucial game in the battle for home semi-finals and there were plenty of sub-contexts to keep an eye on too. Competition at the breakdown was always going to be fierce, while Munster’s scrum looked to dominate early on.

Personnel-wise, Denis Hurley’s efforts at inside centre for Munster were intriguing to watch against the experienced Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy, while Michael Bent at loosehead for Leinster was tested.

Leinster 22 – 18 Munster

Welcome along to our liveblog of the top of the table Pro12 encounter. We’re just over an hour away from kick-off, so get those early predictions in. How important is this game in the grander scheme of things? What would a home loss for Leinster mean ahead of the Heineken Cup quarter-final in Toulon?

Where will this game be won and lost? All opinions are greatly welcome…

Here’s a shot of the Munster changing room before the players arrived this evening. Which of their players will have the biggest say in this fixture?

Will Paul O’Connell’s power in the tight halt the Leinster pack? Can Peter O’Mahony pick up where he left off at the Six Nations breakdown?

The Munster changing room Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The placekickers are on on the pitch here at a so-far sparsely populated Aviva Stadium, with Ian Keatley connecting with the ball cleanly. Against his home province, the 26-year-old will be intent on standing out. Lining up opposite him will be Ian Madigan, whose playmaking skills are always enjoyable to watch.

Which 10 will be playing behind the dominant pack?

Here are your starting teams and substitutes for this evening’s game:

Leinster: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Michael Bent, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross; Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy; Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (capt.).

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack O’Connell, Edward Byrne, Leo Cullen, Jordi Murphy, Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth, Zane Kirchner.

Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, BJ Botha; Dave Foley, Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony (capt.), Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, Alan Cotter, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Gerhard van den Heever.

With 30 minutes to go until kick-off, we hope you’re ready for this one. If not, catch up on some of the build-up from our columnists and rugby writers over the last few days:

Here’s a shot of the captains after they carried out the coin toss with referee Alain Rolland. O’Mahony and Heaslip were teammates so recently, working together to win turnovers during the Six Nations.

Peter O'Mahony with Alain Rolland and Jamie Heaslip Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

DRAMA! There’s been a late change to the Munster team. Peter O’Mahony is out of this game with a hamstring problem. CJ Stander comes into the starting team, with Billy Holland on the bench. Damien Varley is now the Munster captain.

How will that affect the outcome?

This is a huge chance for CJ Stander to prove his worth in a high-stakes game for Munster, he will relish this chance to impose himself on Leinster. As for O’Mahony’s “precautionary” withdrawal, it says a lot about the fixture Rob Penney’s men face in a week’s time.

Both teams fully into their warm-ups at this stage, with Munster’s backs going through a drill where they shift the ball wide through the hands and then work hard to clear out the ruck on that outside edge.

Penney’s men are likely to attempt their wide-wide patterns as always, and resourcing those rucks on the outside will be essential. Expect both sides to put bodies into the breakdown in defence and compete for steals.

O’Mahony is a big loss to Munster at the line-out, where his spring and movement on the ground really stood out during the Six Nations. Stander is far from a like-for-like replacement in that regard.

Does the late change tip the line-out balance totally in the favour of Devin Toner’s Leinster, or will Paul O’Connell’s intelligent calling and defensive reading help Munster to cope?

Rob Penney understandably has one eye on Toulouse, illustrated by the decision not to risk O’Mahony’s hamstring this evening. That game is of utmost importance, but the Kiwi would cherish completing a ‘double’ over Leinster this season.

Rob Penney Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Here’s one of our readers, Padraig McHale, succinctly summing up what Munster may be lacking around the breakdown:

Murray, whilst O’Mahony is a loss at the line out, his impact at the breakdown will be missed much more. Leinster live off quick breakdown ball and he was the one who could have slowed down that supply. O’Donnell is good, but not as good as POM at that.

Paul O’Connell and Damien Varley will need to double their usual ferocious efforts at slowing down opposition possession.

Munster are led out by Varley, and there’s Denis Hurley in the 12 shirt. An interesting one to follow. Here come Leinster now, with the stadium announcer attempting to get the Aviva crowd pumped up. Full house in Dublin and this is going to be a cracker…

Alain Rolland doing his last minute checks and we’re all set to go. Ian Keatley to get us underway…

1 min - Early mistake from Ian Madigan, who kicks the ball out on the full after Leinster carried it back into their own 22. An early attacking platform for Munster now.

2 minutes - A choke tackle already! Munster make strong carries through Hurley, Stander and then Varley around the corner, but the Leinster tacklers are aggressive in holding up the latter. Rolland signals the put-in to the home team. Good start defensively there.

3 minutes - But a scrum penalty for Munster, right in front of the posts and barely 12 metres out. This is surely going to be the opening score for the visitors. Michael Bent was sent backwards by BJ Botha, and then one of the Leinster players used his hand to hook the ball. Clear penalty, here’s Keatley…

PENALTY! Leinster 0-3 Munster (Keatley ’4)

O’Connell is off as a blood sub, with O’Callaghan on for now.

6 minutes - Conor Murray starts a counter-attack from inside Munster’s half, but that’s a poor kick from Keatley out of hand after the scrum-half is tackled. Straight out on the full, and now Leinster will attack from a line-out just inside the Munster half on the left…

8 minutes - Wonderful counter-attack from Munster after Shane Jennings loses the ball in contact, with Coughlan pinching it. Keatley shifted the ball to the left and Simon Zebo burst out of the Munster half to offload inside to Stander. Munster camped on the Leinster 22 metre line now, going through the phases.

And they’ve won a second penalty as Leinster fail to roll away. Kickable for Keatley again, 20 metres out and just to the left of the uprights…

PENALTY! Leinster 0-6 Munster (Keatley ’9)

10 minutes - A strong opening passage from Penney’s men, who look as ambitious as ever with ball in hand. Leinster’s first attack was very structured, with runners around the corner but little impact on the advantage line.

Aerial ping pong in play at the moment, before Zebo puts the head down and runs into contact.

13 minutes - Frantic passage of play there! Lots of inaccurate kicking from both sides allowed counter-attacking chances, before Conor Murray slid a clever grubber kick through for Keith Earls to chase down the right.

Rob Kearney handled the situations well, and ran the ball back 35 metres. The passage ended with a Leinster knock-on at the breakdown though, as Munster competed aggressively. Paul O’Connell has come back onto the pitch, bandaged up and ready to go.

15 minutes - This is the view of reader Eoghain Kenneally on some of Leinster’s play. Agree?

The amount of obstruction from Leinster off the ball is ridiculous.

17 minutes - Leinster repeatedly attempting to shift the ball into the wider channels, but their handling accuracy and pace is a little off so far. Munster’s wide defenders are doing well to shut off those chances on the outside edge too.

Eoin Reddan loses the ball in the tackle on that occasion, but his pack rescue the situation by winning a scrum penalty immediately after. Dave Kilcoyne penalised for going to ground under pressure from Mike Ross. Madigan goes to touch on the left, around 35 metres from the Munster tryline.

19 minutes - A loose offload attempt from Leinster in contact, from Madigan that time results in a turnover, but Murray’s clearing kick slices off the outside of his boot and Leinster go back on the attack from the ensuing line-out.

Rolland pings the Leinster ruckers three phases later, as they go off their feet. Brian O’Driscoll comes in for a word with Rolland now, interesting…

21 minutes - So far, Leinster are struggling to make a real dent on the gainline, but that may come later in the game.

Ian Keatley and Damien Varley tackle Jamie Heaslip Source: James Crombie/INPHO

22 minutes - A third penalty for Keatley coming up after the Munster scrum got on top in the scrum, turning over the Leinster feed. 40 metres out, in front of the posts…

PENALTY! Leinster 0-9 Munster (Keatley ’22)

24 minutes - As the scoreboard indicates, Munster have enjoyed the better of the opening quarter. They’ve looked powerful at the scrum and they’re competing really aggressively at the breakdown. Leinster’s intent on shifting the ball into wide channels, particularly on the left, have so far been meet with a well-working Munster drift in defence.

As we say it, Rolland awards a penalty to Leinster as the Munster tackler fails to release. Madigan from wide on the left…

PENALTY! Leinster 3-9 Munster (Madigan ’25)

Lovely strike.

28 minutes - Leinster go a little more direct with their latest attacking effort, with carriers one or two passes out from the ruck. Unfortunately for them, Reddan’s subsequent box kick is too far and goes into touch on the full. Munster line-out on the left, just inside the Leinster half…

28 minutes - Brian O’Driscoll is looking in cranky form out there this evening. Lots of hands in the air, questioning refereeing calls and plenty of feedback to his teammates.

29 minutes - There’s a another scrum penalty to Munster, again bang on Leinster’s 10-metre line. We expected Munster to have a real go there, and that is materialising. Mike Ross is the one penalised that time, as he drags Kilcoyne to the deck. Keatley steps up again, in front of the posts…

PENALTY! Leinster 3-12 Munster (Keatley ’30)

32 minutes - Leinster regain their kick-off after Madigan drops a well-weighted effort short and low to the right…

33 minutes - But Leinster once again turn the ball over in contact, a real lack of security in their handling so far. Munster attempt to shift the ball to the opposite side of the pitch on the counter, but Leinster manage it well.

Coughlan knocks-on for Munster into touch and Leinster take it quickly…

35 minutes - High tempo stuff, but both sides lacking in a little accuracy for all their intent. Munster are certainly winning the battle of the collisions so far, forcing those Leinster knock-ons around the fringes of the rucks.

It’s clear that Munster’s defence is starting off quite tight, but Leinster are so far failing to really ‘sit’ defenders down, drawing them in before passing the ball along the line. Munster’s drift is working well and that scrum is looking very strong at present.

37 minutes - Excellent play from Brian O’Driscoll, who dabs a little chip in over the top of Felix Jones and forces the fullback to turn and retrieve the ball. As he does so, Luke Fitzgerald arrives to drive him back over the Munster tryline and Leinster get a scrum five metres out.

Super chance to finish the half well…

38 minutes - Scrum penalty to Leinster! Ross gets the better of Kilcoyne on this occasion and the home team will have a shot at goal, 23 metres from the tryline and around 10 metres in from the left-hand touchline. Madigan lines it up…

PENALTY! Leinster 6-12 Munster (Madigan ’38)

40 minutes - Leinster look to run the ball out of their 22 after receiving the restart, and Munster fail to roll away from the ruck. Penalty to Matt O’Connor’s men, which Madigan launches down the left-hand side, just inside the Munster half.

40 minutes - Leinster maintaining possession as Munster’s defensive wall stands firm…

40 minutes – Rob Penney will be frustrated with that. Leinster not making major progress, but Casey Laulala goes in for the poach at the breakdown, but he’s already off his feet and Rolland is swift to ping him for the infringement.

Madigan now has the penalty opportunity from just to the right of the posts, 24 metres out…

40 minutes - And he’s missed it…

HALF TIME! Leinster 6-12 Munster

Let us know your thoughts on that first 40 minutes. Has this game lived up to the billing?

No tries in the first 40, and not too many close calls either, if truth is told. The scrum has played a central role in the game so far. Mike Ross and Dave Kilcoyne are having a real go at each other, and Rolland has already had a word of warning with them as regards the number of infringements on that side.

General view of a scrum Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Munster have been the more error-free team in this game, and they deserve their lead in that regard. It’s hardly the most ringing endorsement of the encounter, but there is lots of strong work being done in the tight.

Laulala was let off the hook with Madigan’s penalty miss just before the break, and it was a sloppy penalty as the centre pushed his luck. That incident apart, Munster have competed well around the breakdown.

What are your thoughts on the opening half? What way do you see the rest of the game going?

This message from reader Richie Kennedy sums up a feeling that Alain Rolland quite possibly shares. Surely a yellow card at scrum time will come in the second half if it continues as it has been.

Scrum is a mess. Ruining any kind of momentum or flow to the match.

As both teams arrive back on the pitch, it’s 7-3 to Toulouse over in Toulon. Let’s hope those Top 14 powerhouses are knocking sizable lumps out of each other before next weekend, even if several key men are missing.

Ian Madigan is readying himself to get the second half underway here in Dublin. No changes to the teams…

41 minutes - Leinster try a short drop-off, with Rob Kearney sent chasing Madigan’s kick straight in front. Knock-on from the Leinster fullback though, and we’re straight into another scrum…

43 minutes - That’s as clean a scrum as we’ve seen and Conor Murray kicks out of Munster half, before Leinster reply in kind. Both sides using the boot early in this half, before Zebo surges down the left-hand side and makes 25 metres with ball in hand…

43 minutes - A promising Munster attack ends as Rolland spots accidental offside from Coughlan. Leinster get the put-in at the scrum just inside their own half, and Reddan cleverly breaks away down the uncovered blindside!

45 minutes - Brilliant play by Reddan, who sniped away from the scrum after spotting that space and made 30 metres with ball in hand. Munster scrambled back to clean up, but they were stretched and conceded a penalty in front of their own posts, 20 metres out.

Looked like Varley who decided not to roll away, and Rolland didn’t hesitate to penalise him. Madigan with a chance to forget about that miss at the end of the first half…

PENALTY! Leinster 9-12 Munster (Madigan ’46)

48 minutes - Almost a wonderful piece of play from Felix Jones in contact there, as he wrapped up Madigan after losing the aerial battle against the Leinster out-half. Jones initiated the choke tackle, but Leinster get the scrum put-in as it came from a clean take in the air.

And from the resulting scrum, Munster are penalised. Dave Kilcoyne went to deck and that’s allowed Madigan to kick the ball into the Munster half…

50 minutes - Leinster lost the line-out, but magnificent work from Kearney in the air allowed him to win the ball against Murray. O’Connor’s side launched into a threatening passage of attack, and Dave Foley concedes the penalty for not rolling away.

Rolland has a word of warning with the Clonmel man, but here’s Madigan with a chance to level the game. 30 metres out and just to the right of the posts…

PENALTY! Leinster 12-12 Munster (Madigan ’51)

53 minutes - Leinster break into the Munster half as Jennings bursts outside O’Donnell in a one-on-one situation. Suddenly, they’re on the front foot and look so threatening. Madigan puts a lovely little grubber through for D’Arcy to chase but Zebo wins the race and touches down behind the Munster tryline!

YELLOW CARD! Dave Kilcoyne (’54)

The Munster loosehead went off his feet at the ruck just before that Madigan grubber and he’s been binned. Leinster go to the corner from the penalty!

55 minutes - Absolutely brilliant defence there from Ian Keatley and Denis Hurley as they affect a technically flawless, aggressive choke tackle on D’Arcy just metres from the Munster tryline. Superb.

56 minutes - And Munster complete the job as Murray kicks clear after being fed by a solid scrum. James Cronin was in there at loosehead, he’s on for Tommy O’Donnell while Dave Kilcoyne sits out ten minutes of play.

57 minutes - We’re off to the TMO for a potential Leinster try. Looks good for O’Driscoll, who took a sublime Jennings offload to cross!

TRY! Leinster 17-12 Munster (O’Driscoll ’57)

CONVERSION! Leinster 19-12 Munster (Madigan ’57)

59 minutes - And just like that, Leinster power into the lead. Superb score all round, as they built phases in tight moving from left to right on the Munster 22-metre line, before O’Driscoll sent a long pass to Jennings out on the right.

The openside flanker again showed good pace to just get outside his man, and as he was hauled down, he popped the offload back inside to O’Driscoll, who had run an intelligent support line. Clinical stuff as Leinster convert their recent territorial advantage into seven points.

59 minutes - Damien Varley has gone off injured, replaced by Duncan Casey. A strong carrier, might be what Munster need right now.

61 minutes - Munster’s Simon Zebo has taken two heavy tackles as his team look to build from inside their own half. Earls threatens down the left, before a strong carry from Botha makes headway. Conor Murray snipes to the left of a midfield rucks, and there’s a chance down the left. Stander goes close!

62 minutes - Leinster scramble to make the tackle, but then fail to roll away. Advantage being played, but they continue to probe metres out from the Leinster tryline. Laulala dances past two tackles, and then Leinster cut their losses and conceded the penalty under their posts…

63 minutes - Leinster attempt to make a substitution, but they’ll have to wait until Keatley has had his penalty attempt from in front of the posts. He’s taken it 18 metres out and this looks straightforward…

PENALTY! Leinster 19-15 Munster (Keatley ’64)

65 minutes - And now Leinster make their changes.

Leo Cullen comes on for Devin Toner, while Sean Cronin replaces Richardt Strauss.

Also, Kilcoyne is back on the pitch, so that means O’Donnell also returns, with James Cronin back to the bench.

66 minutes - Here’s the moment O’Driscoll touched down for his try after that Jennings offload. Leinster back on the attack inside the Munster 22 again now…

Brian O'Driscoll scores a try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

67 minutes - That’s Brian O’Driscoll’s evening over. He looks a little dazed and shaky on his feet as he gets escorted off by one of Leinster’s medical staff. Zane Kirchner is on the pitch.

68 minutes - Jordi Murphy is the next sub on the pitch for Leinster. He’s replaced Kevin McLaughlin at blindside flanker. Munster are going to get us back underway here with a scrum on their own 10-metre line, 15 metres in from the left-hand touchline.

70 minutes - Lots of re-adjusting at the scrum before we actually see the ball back in play. Big ten minutes coming up now. Munster go wide to the right through the hands off that scrum, lovely play. Earls grubbers ahead though and Leinster reclaim possession.

72 minutes - James Cronin replaces Kilcoyne at loosehead, just after Gerhard van den Heever – just onto the pitch – looks dangerous with his first touch of the ball. His long strides take him beyond the gainline, but the good work is undone by a knock-on in contact.

Leinster’s scrum just outside their own 22…

74 minutes - Another long pause as the front rows get themselves set up. When the ball is fed in, Munster get a good initial shove on, but Leinster clear their lines through Reddan.

Zebo runs back willingly after fielding the kick and now Leinster are being forced to defend. Van den Heever jinks and then straightens up, before Cronin thunders into contact on the Leinster 10-metre line.

Munster are making little progress though, so Keatley fires a gorgeous raking kick in behind Leinster and the ball bounces into touch six metres from the home team’s line.

75 minutes - Leinster’s clearance is infield again and Zebo dances his way back up the pitch. O’Connor’s men compete ferociously at the breakdown, but they’ve conceded a penalty there. Keatley will go for goal from 40 metres out. It’s straight in front again…

PENALTY! Leinster 19-18 Munster (Keatley ’77)

77 minutes - Mike Ross has been hauled off, with Jack O’Connell on in his place. Munster running the ball out of their own 22, making progress, but then substitute JJ Hanrahan – just on the pitch – is indecisive and he himself and O’Donnell get their lines cross. Obstruction and a penalty to Leinster!

This is 35 metres out and very, very central. Madigan with the chance to all but seal it…

PENALTY! Leinster 22-18 Munster (Madigan ’79)

80 minutes - Munster’s attempt to retrieve their kick-off is unsuccessful as the ball slips into touch on the left. Leinster will have the put-in at a scrum wide on the left, Munster actually knocked-on in their attempts to win the ball in the air.

80 minutes - Jamie Heaslip has been named man of the match.

FULL TIME! Leinster 22-18 Munster

Eoin Reddan picks from the back of the scrum and runs the ball into touch to finish this Pro12 encounter.

So what are your initial thoughts on that clash? Were Leinster deserving winners or will Munster feel hard done by? Looking ahead to the crucial Heineken Cup quarter-finals next weekend, how is your team looking?

All opinions and contributions are welcome, so send them on!

That’s all we have time for on the liveblog, but thanks very much for joining us. We’re off to the post-match presser to hear what the head coaches and captains thought of that game.

Keep your comments coming, and thanks to those who contributed during the game. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, cheers!

About the author:

Murray Kinsella