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When brilliant assists from Mafi and ROG helped Munster to beat Leinster

The 2011 Magners League final in Thomond Park was a thrilling affair.

Updated May 2nd 2020, 3:04 PM

MUNSTER HAD NO shortage of motivation for the 2011 Magners League final.

On home soil at Thomond Park against their fiercest rivals in the shape of Leinster, there was pure old-fashioned pride on the line. 

Joe Schmidt’s side had won the Heineken Cup the weekend before, equalling Munster’s record of two European trophies as they pulled off a remarkable comeback win against Northampton. So, this was also a chance to bring them crashing back to earth.

And most importantly of all, Paul Darbyshire, the province’s hugely popular head of strength and conditioning, was there in Limerick on the day, battling the Motor Neurone disease that would take his life only a few weeks later.

paul-oconnell-lifts-the-magners-league-trophy The Munster squad with Paul Darbyshire. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There was huge emotion for Munster but they harnessed it perfectly to deliver a compelling performance in a game that TG4 will screen this evening at 7.15pm in the latest episode of their Rugbaí Gold series of classic matches.

Featuring some of Irish rugby’s greatest-ever players, including Ronan O’Gara, Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, and Johnny Sexton, this final was always bound to offer real quality.

Munster earned a 19-9 victory in which they scored the only three tries of the game. Two of them came thanks to superb assists from O’Gara and Lifeimi Mafi, while they were also awarded a late penalty try.

Inside centre Mafi did superbly to tee up Doug Howlett’s 12th-minute score.

Mafi

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It’s a brilliant bit of playmaking from Mafi that highlights the quality he brought to Munster during his six-year spell with the province.

Initially, there doesn’t appear to be anything on for Munster from the midfield ruck, with Leinster seeming to have sufficient numbers on their left-hand side.

In the shot below, we’ve highlighted the three Leinster defenders on their feet on that side, with a snipe from Conor Murray or a pass to Paul O’Connell the obvious threats. 

1

Out of shot, Luke Fitzgerald is marking up on Doug Howlett, who’s holding the width for Munster.

We can see that Mafi is already in motion, sweeping from left to right deep behind the ruck in a bid to come up with a play. Even as Mafi receives the pass from Murray, Leinster look to be in decent shape as Eoin Reddan [white below] advances to deal with Mafi.

2

With Fitzgerald covering Howlett out of shot, it’s a two-on-two in defence for Leinster.

But a decent defensive situation rapidly turns into a conceded try thanks to Mafi’s sublime work on the ball.

Still arcing out to his right, Mafi uses a beautiful goose step, a typical bit of fast-twitch play from the Munster centre. That stuttering of his steps from Mafi to momentarily hang in the air invites Reddan to sit onto his heels, as happens in the split second below.

3

At this point, Reddan is beaten, having essentially stopped closing the space towards Mafi and hesitated as the Munster man stuttered his stride. 

Mafi is able to accelerate outside Reddan, swerving almost completely across the pitch for a moment as he holds the ball in his right hand, keeping his left free for a possible fend on Reddan.

He’s around the scrum-half and now a clear try-scoring danger himself, meaning Fitzgerald has to turn in from the outside.

4

With the ball back in two hands, Mafi is able to seal the deal by delivering the pass to the unmarked Howlett to finish.

O’Gara’s assist later in the game for Keith Earls’ 66th-minute try was a very different one, and not just because it involved Munster scoring in the left corner this time.

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Munster had slipped behind at 9-7 after three penalties from the boot of Sexton but a classy score from the home side put them back in front.

Earls

[Click here if you cannot view the clip above]

O’Gara’s kicking ability is on show here as Munster intelligently and calmly use their penalty advantage, which referee Nigel Owens is signalling below.

1

O’Connell [circled in yellow] is helpfully letting Owens know that it’s time to send a Leinster player to the sin bin.

To the left of the ruck, O’Gara is already calling for the ball, keen to have a go with the advantage. As we can see below, the out-half [red] sets up behind a group of three forwards. 

2

David Wallace does a good job ahead of the ball here, making a run at the defence as a decoy [as indicated in white above].

That run briefly attracts Sexton in towards Wallace…

3

… before Sexton adjusts to get around Wallace and through towards O’Gara…

4

Wallace’s actions only mean a split-second delay for Sexton in getting through on O’Gara but those split seconds all count when the out-half is lining up a difficult cross-field kick, and Sexton is marginally too late to get a block on it.

The kick from O’Gara is clever. It doesn’t take the most aesthetically-pleasing flight through the air but the trajectory is superbly judged by the Ireland out-half.

5

O’Gara keeps his kick low, attempting to get it cross-field and into Earls’ hands as quickly as possible.

We can see that Leinster fullback Isa Nacewa is racing to make up ground out to his right, with O’Gara’s kick giving Earls just enough time to work his finish.

A little similarly to what we Earls would deliver before Sexton’s drop-goal in Paris seven years later on the way to a Grand Slam, the Munster wing shows impressive dynamism after fielding a kick.

Aware of how hard Nacewa is chasing across the pitch, Earls intelligently and explosively begins to burst back to the Leinster man’s inside in the same split second as he cradles the ball in.

6

Nacewa has no time to react as Earls cuts inside, before the Munster wing shows a second dynamic movement to accelerate back outside as Shane Horgan attempts to chase across from infield.

7

Horgan makes his contact but Earls is able to keep the ball free in his left hand and roll through the tackle and dot down just before O’Driscoll slides in despairingly.

Munster led 12-9 and eventually sealed their win with the 79th-minute penalty try, converted by O’Gara to secure the most recent trophy in the province’s history.

The 2011 Magners League final between Munster and Leinster at Thomond Park will be screened on TG4 this evening at 7.15pm.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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