Munster Rugby and their faithful fans were shell shocked by a dominant first half display by Leinster in an action-packed eight-try Guinness Pro14 Interprovincial St. Stephen’s Day clash at Thomond Park.
With the home side blown for Alex Wootton not releasing inside the opening 90 seconds of the game, Ross Byrne took the three points with a successful kick at the posts. The visitors soon added to their early score when a cross field kick was collected by eventual Man of the Match winner Dan Leavy who easily touched down for a five-pointer. Referee Nigel Owens checked with his TMO Simon McDowell to see if Leavy has been ahead of the kicker. Agreement between the officials confirmed Leinster’s score which Byrne would convert for a 10-0 lead with only 10 minutes on the clock.
The southern province conceded another penalty three minutes later when players ahead of the kicker failed to retreat before playing the ball; Byrne had his third successful kick at the posts to increase his team’s lead to 13-0.
A shell-shocked Thomond Park following launched into a half-hearted rendition of “Stand Up and Fight” in an effort to inspire their players. Munster’s first score of the game, and their only one of the first half, saw Conor Murray touch down when he came round a maul in front of the West Stand. The Limerick man had taken the ball in the lineout at the beginning of the move, and ended it with the try. Ian Keatley missed a difficult kick for the conversion, leaving the score Munster 5 Leinster 13.
Recent Leinster Rugby signing James Lowe was tackled illegally by Munster fullback Andrew Conway when, in the referee’s judgement, the former New Zealand Maori would have scored a try. Lowe blasted past the Munster player, who then held the Nelson-born former Chiefs player, by having his hands around him. Owens showed Conway a yellow card and awarded Leinster a penalty-try; the three-time European Champions Cup winners were now starting to move out of their rivals’ sight at 20-5.
Munster were opened up in the 23rd minute when Leinster scored their third try of the game. Rory O’Loughlin was supported by winger Barry Daly with centre Robbie Henshaw on Daly’s shoulder accepting the final pass to score, before Byrne again converted for a half time score of Munster 5 Leinster 27.
Whatever was said to the Munster players at half time certainly had an effect as they broke early from the traps when returning to the field. Ian Keatley scored a try, which he then converted to narrow the gap to 15 points. Then, a precise pass from Rory Scannell floated out wide to Andrew Conway allowed the Dubliner cut inside and out to score in the corner in front of the West Stand. Keatley’s conversion meant the score was now 19-27, with Leinster becoming increasingly nervous, having conceded 4 penalties early in the second 40 minutes.
The visitors soon put pay to their opponents’ fight back as Munster spent 10 minutes dominating possession in the Leinster half of the field, but without scoring. The pendulum was now swinging back in favour of the eastern province. Continuous pressure from Johann van Graan’s side, with many big carries, all came to no avail as they failed to add to their score. A crucial Dan Leavy-won penalty with 13 minutes to play on the clock relieved the pressure on Leinster.
The Leinster victory was in no doubt, however, following an incredible 60 metre Jordan Larmour try in the 70th minute. The break from the 20 year-old fullback saw him beat defender after defender before touching down despite the best efforts of the back-tracking Simon Zebo. Byrne added the extra two points for the conversion to bring his match total to 10 points.
Despite Munster making one final valiant effort through a second Andrew Conway try, which Keatley’s replacement JJ Hanrahan failed to convert, Leinster ran out well deserved winners. Leo Cullen’s side collected a four-try bonus point win, with Munster collecting a four-tries scored bonus point.
Final score: Munster 24 Leinster 34.