Jonathan Sexton scored all of Leinster’s points as they went top of the GUINNESS PRO12 with a 16-13 derby win over Munster at the Aviva Stadium…
A week on from losing to Connacht, Leo Cullen’s men joined the westerners at the summit, and the provincial pair hold home advantage in the play-off race with three rounds to go.
In front of a 43,108 attendance, Jonathan Sexton’s timely touchdown just before half-time ended Leinster’s 260-minute try drought in the league, and left Munster trailing 10-6.
Young out-half Johnny Holland, who started instead of Ian Keatley, had twice kicked the visitors in front before that, and he brilliantly converted his own 47th-minute try for a 13-10 turnaround.
But a couple of assured place-kicks from Sexton, with Keatley missing his only attempt of the night, had Leinster on the cusp of their first season’s double over Munster since 2012/13.
They had to survive a frenetic late assault on their try-line, though, with Cian Healy in the sin-bin. Mike Sherry went closest for the men in red but Jamie Heaslip and Ben Te’o typified a Leinster defence that would not yield.
Munster got off the mark in the 13th minute, Holland slotting over a straightforward penalty after Simon Zebo had knocked on a flat pass from Conor Murray just a few metres out.
Lineout issues spoiled Leinster’s attempts to respond, with Munster able to clear the danger in their 22 following an excellent steal by the lively Tommy O’Donnell.
Sexton opened Leinster’s account off the kicking tee with 27 minutes gone, punishing a bloodied Donncha Ryan for not rolling away before the Munster lock was forced off.
A classy break from Rory Scannell preceded Holland’s second successful penalty, but Ryan’s replacement, Robin Copeland, saw yellow soon after for Munster’s third maul offence in their 22.
Leinster took immediate advantage, pressing from a lineout drive before man-of-the-match Sexton got outside Francis Saili to raid in from close range, bouncing off the left hand post on the way. The conversion put four points between the sides.
However, Munster piled forward on the resumption, their pick and goes proving very effective before Holland took advantage of a missed tackle from Sean Cronin to score out wide on the left.
The Cork youngster’s pinpoint conversion was cancelled out by Sexton’s second successful penalty, two minutes later, as Leinster starlet Garry Ringrose began to make inroads in midfield.
Following Holland’s departure near the hour mark, Keatley was wide with his one and only shot at the posts and Sexton soon sent Leinster back in front, rewarding Rhys Ruddock’s accurate foraging at the breakdown.
Into the closing stages, Munster came with wave after wave of attack. Luke McGrath lifted the pressure by winning a ruck penalty for the hosts, but fellow replacement Healy’s no-arms tackle on Dave Kilcoyne left them down to 14 men for the final four minutes.
Munster’s well-drilled maul drew a kickable penalty and they went for broke by going to touch, but Heaslip’s vital tackle on Sherry, followed by a Te’o hit that forced a knock-on, saw Leinster prevail in breathless fashion.
LEINSTER SCORERS: J. Sexton (1 try, 1 conversion and 3 penalties)
MUNSTER SCORERS: J. Holland (1 try, 1 conversion and 2 penalties)
15. Zane Kirchner (Jack McGrath, 78)
14. Isa Nacewa CAPTAIN
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Ben Te’o
11. Dave Kearney (Fergus McFadden, 68)
10. Jonathan Sexton (Ian Madigan, 76)
9. Eoin Reddan (Luke McGrath, 68)
1. Jack McGrath (Cian Healy, 68)
2. Sean Cronin (Richardt Strauss, 50)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Mike Ross, 63)
4. Devin Toner
5. Hayden Triggs (Ross Molony, 63)
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Jordi Murphy (Josh van der Flier, 50)
8. Jamie Heaslip
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Johnny Holland, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer, Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland, Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander CAPTAIN.
REPLACEMENTS: Mike Sherry, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Robin Copeland, Jack O’Donoghue, Tomas O’Leary, Ian Keatley, Darren Sweetnam.
REFEREE: Ian Davies (WRU); ASSISTANT REFEREES: David Wilkinson, Mark Patton (both IRFU); CITING COMMISSIONER: Peter Ferguson (IRFU); TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU).