Munster 29 Leinster 17
Munster 29 Leinster 17
December 26, 2016 / Dave Mervyn
The absence of a number of their Ireland internationals was keenly felt by Leinster in the second half of this festive derby as Munster pulled away, duly extending their lead at the top of the PRO12 to five points.
Ronan O’Mahony’s try just before half-time was added to by a 15-point blitz – including scores from Tommy O’Donnell and man-of-the-match CJ Stander – that wrapped up the bonus point for Rassie Erasmus’ men, who were full value for their win, by the hour mark.
Leinster scored first and last in Limerick but came away with nothing to show for their efforts, Zane Kirchner zooming over in the 17th minute and Richardt Strauss’ consolation score coming with just four minutes remaining.
Both sides hurtled into tackles early on in front of the capacity 26,400 crowd, Stander knocking on after a bout of early pressure from Munster, while Tyler Bleyendaal and a confident-looking Ross Byrne also probed effectively with the boot.
Leinster, who were thwarted by an earlier lost lineout, used scrum possession to unlock the home defence just past the quarter hour, full-back Kirchner taking a direct line to the whitewash after crisp passing from half-backs Jamison Gibson Park and Byrne.
Munster were level within five minutes, though, building from a lineout in the 22 and Simon Zebo showed brilliant awareness to twist out of attempted tackles from Gibson Park and Barry Daly and dot down just inches away from the right corner flag. Bleyendaal’s conversion attempt went over with the aid of the crossbar.
Leinster captain Isa Nacewa punished a neck-roll by Jean Kleyn to kick the visitors back in front at 10-7, the tit-for-tat exchanges continuing up front as Dan Leavy won a breakdown decision and Jaco Taute’s well-timed tackle led to a monster counter ruck from the Munster forwards.
The hosts had nothing to show for a prolonged attacking spell which included a clever Conor Murray chip and a between-the-legs pass from James Cronin. However, their efforts were rewarded past the 40-minute mark, a frenzied 21 phases leading to Bleyendaal sending winger O’Mahony over in the right corner, with the New Zealander’s terrific touchline conversion giving the table toppers a 14-10 interval advantage.
Kirchner avoided sanction for an off-the-ball tackle on Darren Sweetnam just before the try, the latter’s replacement Andrew Conway soaring to claim a high ball and keep Munster on the front foot early in the second period.
The third quarter was where Munster really put the game to bed, dominating possession with their industrious pack getting on top and their maul proving increasingly influential. They were aided, it must be said, by some marginal calls by referee Nigel Owens and his Irish match officials.
On another night, James Tracy would have been rewarded for his work at the breakdown ten metres from his own line, but Munster managed to retain possession and Murray’s classy cross-field kick was juggled and then dotted down, wide on the right, by flanker O’Donnell.
That seven-pointer was followed by five more from Stander, the powerful number 8 driving over from a lineout maul on the opposite wing in the 56th minute. With the bonus point in the bag, Bleyendaal booted a 61st minute penalty to put Munster out of sight at 29-10 – but only after their loosehead Cronin was allowed to come in on an angle at a scrum the hosts won against the head.
As the men in red, including fit-again centre Francis Saili, continued to flood forward, it took some excellent tackling and rucking from Jack Conan to prevent a certain try, and it was the visitors who had the final say as a late surge saw replacement hooker Strauss spring free from a maul to the right of the posts.