A reality check that Munster are most definitely behind provincial rivals Leinster in the pecking order was provided in Thomond Park on a bitingly cold and breezy afternoon in Thomond Park. Bragging rights are definitely with the visitors who have completed the double over Munster this season but there are no trophies given out in December. Lessons will be learnt from the lack-lustre first half which gifted Leinster with a twenty two point lead going into the break. While Leinster had played with the wind advantage in the first half the wind was not worth 22 points and so it proved to be as Munster closed the gap but could not overcome that deficit. They gave it a good shot though scoring 3 tries in that second half only for the visitors to pull out of reach with a fantastic individual try scored by a player I expect we will see a lot of in the future – Academy player Jordan Larmour.
From the kickoff Leinster won a penalty when Munster did not release the ball which Ross Byrne kicked to make it 0-3 before the third minute. He had an exemplary 100% kicking success rate all evening and put in a great cross-field kick for Dan Leavy’s try in the corner which he converted to make it 0-10 before the 10th minute. Was Wootton obstructed in the build-up? Was Leavy ahead of the kicker? The TMO reviewed and the try stood. Not the start we had hoped for as we tried to encourage the team to respond.
A great chip and collection by Ian Keatley kickstarted that response. Wootton was next to make ground down the wing before passing to Murray who took it on himself. Unfortunatly he went into contact rather than releasing Tommy O’Donnell on his shoulder but it was good to see them in the Leinster half. A penalty was won in the subsequent phases which was kicked to touch. I was surprised to see Rory Scannell being summoned over to the lineout. There he and Dave Kilcoyne lifted Conor Murray who claimed the ball and offloaded quickly. Munster drove forward and a few phases later it was Murray himself who powered over the line. Unfortunately the conversion went wide but we were on the board.
However a kick ahead by Larmour gave us the chance to witness the pace of recent signing James Lowe. Andrew Conway gave chase and despairingly tackled Lowe without the ball resulting in not just a yellow card but also a penalty try to put Munster further under the kosh at 5-20 with only 20 minutes played.
Munster persisted with the kicking tactic. Rory Scannell gave chase and put in a great tackle on Larmour which dislodged the ball but it went backwards and was picked up by Rory O’Loughlin who ducked under Arnold’s tackle before racing into the other half. Barry Daly was there in support when he was chased down. Wootton got back to drag Daly down but he got the pass away to Rob Henshaw who scored. Ross Byrne made it 5-27 in the 24th minute. It was no wonder we were frustrating by the continuing kicking tactic as while Conway had claimed one and Sweetnam another it tended to give possession away.
There was a stoppage in play so Paul kicked off a rendition of Stand up and Fight on the west terrace which spread to other sections and when Munster won a penalty from the next scrum we hoped we had inspired the pack. They mauled forward from the subsequent lineout as we roared them on.
One of the encouraging signs in the first half was seeing the pack dominate in the scrum. Leinster had a scrum in the Munster 22 but they were driven backwards and knocked on at the base. A few minutes later a kick out on the full gave Munster a lineout in the Leinster half. A knock-on gave them another scrum platform which they again dominated to win another penalty. Unfortunately the kick went dead and there were no more scores before the break but there was plenty of action, carries and tackles as the game ebbed and flowed.
Munster started the second half with a renewed focus and determination. Peter won a turnover and a subsequent penalty was kicked to touch but the lineout was lost. A no arms tackle on Wootton by Toner gave another penalty and a warning but no card was shown to some dissent from the supporters. Again the lineout was missed as the ball went over the head of Peter O’Mahony and momentum was lost. However Munster kept possession. Another penalty lead to a warning for Leinster as Niall Scannell and Simon Zebo came on. Conor Murray was again put into the lineout to take the ball. The pack got close to the line before Ian Keatley picked a great angle to skip between two defenders to score and convert his own try. Playing with the wind advantage they were able to pressure Leinster in their own half. Just minutes later a great skip pass by Rory Scannell found Andrew Conway out near the touchline where he scythed between two defenders and showed his pace and stepping ability to score in the corner.
The conversion came off the post to make it 19-27 and it was game on! The noise levels rose and there was a real sense of energy on and off the pitch. A super kick by Keatley pinned Leinster back. Another penalty for side entry was kicked to touch by Rory Scannell.
Jean Kleyn showed his lovely handling skills, taking one ball on his knees and passing on and another time with a great offload. Phase after phase of attack were repelled by the blue defensive line as momentum remained with the home team. A lovely kick ahead and chase by Conway resulted in a collision with James Lowe. What a battle those two had all afternoon in the air and on the ground!
Munster struggled to unlock the Leinster defence despite having the upper hand in possession and territory, running into contact as Leinster were quick off their line. Dan Leavy was awarded man of the match and time and again he was there to thwart Munster.
It is a credit (if scant consolation) to the team that they managed to keep Leinster scoreless from the 25th minute until a piece of magic in the 68th minute. You have to admire Jordan Larmour’s ability to step and swerve as he raced from just outside his own 22m line to the far try line. His pace and balance were breath-taking and if he were wearing red we would be eulogizing about him. He definitely lived up to the hype and while painful viewing at the time it will be something we will look back on as special and say we were there to witness it live.
That score secured the 4th try bonus point for Leinster but there was still time for Munster to respond. They hustled and harried, pinning Leinster back in their own half. When they had a period of possession there was no lack of endeavor through phase after phase but Leinster were up fast in their faces pushing them backwards. Forcing James Lowe into touch gave them a lineout inside the Leinster 22. Jack O’Donoghue secured the ball and Duncan Williams tried to inject some pace into the attack. A penalty was taken quickly and Munster kept probing. Simon Zebo drew the defence before releasing Andrew Conway to score in the corner. JJ Hanrahan missed the conversion but there were still a few minutes left to aim for a losing bonus point to add to the 4 tries scored bonus point. However it was not to be as Leinster denied them any more points as they went on to inflict the first home defeat since February.
MUNSTER: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wooton; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander. Replacements: Niall Scannell for O’Byrne, Simon Zebo for Sweetnam (both 45 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for O’Donnell (61 mins), James Cronin for Kilcoyne, John Ryan for Archer (both 62 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Keatley (71 mins), Darren O’Shea for Holland, Duncan Williams for Murray (both 75 mins).
LEINSTER: Jordan Larmour; Barry Daly, Rory O’Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Jack McGrath (capt), James Tracy, Michael Bent; Devin Toner, James Ryan; Jordi Murphy, Dan Leavy, Jack Conan. Replacements: Ed Byrne for McGrath (half-time), Tadhg Furlong for Bent, Mick Kearney for Ryan (both 47 mins), Noel Reid for Daly (55 mins), Richardt Strauss for Tracy, Josh van der Flier for Murphy (both 66 mins), Nick McCarthy for Gibson-Park (75 mins), Cathal Marsh for Byrne (77 mins).
Stats: courtesy of ESPN
Post match interview with coach Johann van Graan from The42.ie
It was not the performance or result worthy of the 100th cap for captain Peter O’Mahony. Heading to Ravenhill to take on a hurting Ulster team after their sound beating in Galway will not be easy. Rotation of the squad though is essential as fatigue and injuries need to be managed. It all sets up a fascinating encounter on New Years Day.
Disappointment is understandable and I am sure there was plenty of that in the dressing room after the game. We don’t want to settle for second best but desire to see our team be successful. I was travelling back to Dublin after the game so not online to see people venting their frustration on social media. I did however see this Facebook post and think it is worth sharing – can’t be sure it is actually written by “the” Paul Warwick but the words resonated with me anyway:
Given the most read WTView post in 2017 was this one I wrote in 2013 which is often hit when people search before buying tickets for a game to know the pros and cons of east v west etc. I am wondering if my observations have become stale and if the 5-6 hours spent writing them up each week is worth continuing. If you have time to answer this short survey or provide a comment below or on the WTView facebook page it would be much appreciated. Happy new year to all