Munster move clear at top of Pro12 with bonus-point win over Leinster

Rassie Erasmus’ men scored four tries in a convincing win at Thomond Park.

Munster 29

Leinster 17

Murray Kinsella reports from Thomond Park

MUNSTER MOVED FIVE points clear of Leinster at the top of the Guinness Pro12 with a comprehensive 29-17 win over their inter-provincial rivals, racking up four tries for a bonus-point victory.

Simon Zebo, Ronan O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell and man of the match CJ Stander all crossed for five pointers as Rassie Erasmus’ men clinically put away a weakened Leinster team in front of a boisterous crowd of 26,200.

Jean Kleyn gets in a tussle with Mike McCarthy 26/12//2016 Tommy Dickson / INPHO Jean Kleyn squares up to Mike McCarthy. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

With Leo Cullen leaving the likes of Jack McGrath, Jamie Heaslip, Devin Toner and Luke McGrath out of his side and Munster going with their strongest available XV, the home province were better in virtually all aspects.

They kicked well to compete – whereas Leinster were poor in this area – their maul and lineout were largely dominant, and their work rate in attack was once again exemplary.

Leinster are likely to have several of their missing frontliners back in situ for the New Year’s Eve clash with Ulster at the RDS, whereas the likes of Conor Murray and CJ Stander may be due a rest for Munster’s meeting with Connacht in Galway.

The Christmas cobwebs were blown off in a poor opening 15 minutes at Thomond, before Leinster struck superbly for the first score.

Jamison Gibson-Park hit out-half Ross Byrne drifting right on a diagonal line, with Byrne drawing Jaco Taute up out of the Munster defence searching for the big hit. Byrne deftly released to Kirchner as the fullback straightened inside Ronan O’Mahony, beating the covering defenders to the right of the posts.

Nacewa’s conversion made it 7-0 in Leinster’s favour, but Munster responded within four minutes as they battered the visitors’ tryline before Murray skipped to Zebo on the right touchline.

Simon Zebo smiles as he is awarded his try 26/12//2016 Tommy Dickson / INPHO Zebo took his try brilliantly. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

The Ireland international somehow kept his feet in play, spinning through the tackles of Gibson-Park and Barry Daly to stretch out his right hand and dot down, the TMO confirming his try. Bleyendaal’s brilliant conversion from out wide levelled proceedings.

A neck roll penalty against the otherwise excellent Jean Kleyn allowed Leinster to push back in front on the 27-minute mark through a Nacewa penalty, but Munster finished the half on top.

Leinster’s defence was superb for extended periods, particularly with Munster in their 22, but Erasmus’ men are a determined bunch. Having been spurned with their previous visit into Leinster territory, Munster would not relent with the half ticking to a close.

They smashed into the Leinster tackles repeatedly after a Cian Healy penalty concession gave them access, before finally shifting the ball to Bleyendaal.

Left win O’Mahony had looped all the way around to the right touchline, with Bleyendaal then skipping Darren Sweetnam to free O’Mahony to dive over in the right corner.

There was another TMO interaction as Nigel Owens reviewed Kirchner’s off-the-ball hit on Sweetnam – forced off injured as a result – but no sanction followed.

Instead, Bleyendaal again slotted the touchline conversion for a 14-10 lead to Munster at the break.

Ronan O’Mahony celebrates scoring a try with Tyler Bleyendaal Gary Carr / INPHO Bleyendaal and O'Mahony celebrate the left wing's try. Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

The early stages of the second half featured plenty of poorly-chased kicking from both teams, but Munster had been buoyed by that O’Mahony try.

The southern province ended one spell of kick tennis with a counter attack launched by the excellent Conor Murray that saw O’Donnell make a powerful surge down the left touchline.

Again, the forwards took over inside the 22 and pummelled their way to within metres, before a classy contribution from a back helped Munster to make up the final inches. It was Murray this time, as he scooped the ball from a ruck under the posts and fired a gorgeous cross-field kick towards the right corner flag.

O’Donnell had Daly in competition with him, but reached higher to gather the ball and muscle over for Munster’s third, once again converted brilliantly by Bleyendaal from the right touchline.

The bonus point was sealed in the 58th minute as Munster’s maul fired up once again, continuing their dominance of this area, and number eight Stander was the beneficiary this time.

Bleyendaal missed his easiest conversion attempt, relatively speaking, but did slot three points with a penalty inside the final quarter.

Tommy O’Donnell scores a try 26/12//2016 Tommy Dickson / INPHO O'Donnell scored Munster's third try. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

With both sides emptying their benches, there was a first appearance of the season for All Blacks-capped centre Francis Saili, who replaced new Munster cult hero Taute and understandably looked very hungry.

Leinster did muster a consolation score in the 78th minute, with replacement hooker Richardt Strauss bursting over from a maul, allowing Nacewa to convert, but Munster fans left Thomond Park with a festive skip in their step after another heartening home win.

Munster scorers:

Tries: Simon Zebo, Ronan O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander

Conversions: Tyler Bleyendaal [3 from 4]

Penalties: Tyler Bleyendaal [1 from 1]

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Zane Kirchner, Richardt Strauss

Conversions: Isa Nacewa [2 from 2]

Penalties: Isa Nacewa [1 from 1]

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam (Andrew Conway ’40), Jaco Taute (Francis Saili ’63), Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’70 (blood sub – Murray ’76 to ’78)); James Cronin (HIA Dave Kilcoyne ’15 to ’19, permanent ’62), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’62), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’62); Jean Kleyn (Billy Holland ’70), Donnacha Ryan; Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Jack O’Donoghue ’66), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.

LEINSTER: Zane Kirchner; Isa Nacewa (captain), Rory O’Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, Barry Daly (Noel Reid ’55); Ross Byrne (Tom Daly ’70), Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy (Peter Dooley ’63), James Tracy (Richardt Strauss ’63), Tadhg Furlong (Michael Bent ’63); Ross Molony, Mike McCarthy (Ian Nagle ’52 (HIA Rhys Ruddock ’70)); Rhys Ruddock (Dominic Ryan ’66), Dan Leavy, Jack Conan.

Replacements not used: Charlie Rock.

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU].

Quiz: How well do you remember the women’s rugby year?

Bundee, JVDF and CJ: The42′s Pro12 team of 2016

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