Jonathan Sexton set a new Leinster points-scoring record as they posted a 23-17 GUINNESS PRO14 derby win over Munster at the Aviva Stadium.
Rory O’Loughlin’s well-taken brace of tries after 16 and 34 minutes had the hosts leading 14-7 at half-time, sandwiching an intercept score from Ian Keatley.
An early second half penalty saw Sexton eclipse Felipe Contepomi (1225 points) as Leinster’s record points scorer, before the returning Keith Earls finished off a Tommy O’Donnell-inspired try for resilient Munster.
Two more penalties from man-of-the-match Sexton – taking his provincial career haul to 1234 – sent the blue-clad hordes in the 46,374-strong crowd home happy, albeit that Earls’ 78th-minute try bagged the reds a late bonus point.
Both provinces were looking for a momentum-building performance heading into Europe next week, with Robbie Henshaw returning from the torn pectoral muscle which ended his Lions tour, and Earls also making his seasonal debut.
Wingers Andrew Conway, who was first to slice open either defence, and Adam Byrne were both prominent in a fast-paced opening 10 minutes, the latter showing his aerial ability from Sexton’s cross-field kicks.
TMO Jon Mason ruled out what would have been an excellent solo try from Earls – Chris Farrell’s long pass was adjudged forward – but Leinster were on the board soon after.
Off solid possession in the visitors’ 22, centre O’Loughlin spun out of John Ryan’s attempted tackle and produced an excellent finish under pressure from CJ Stander and Robin Copeland. Sexton converted from straight in front.
Leinster failed to score during Niall Scannell’s sin-bin period, the Munster hooker seeing yellow for a deliberate knock-on, and Keatley punished them, swooping on a Sexton pass, which Henshaw could only get his fingertips to, as he raided in under the posts for the levelling seven-pointer.
Joey Carbery had made a vital tackle on Earls before that and the young full-back provided the assist for O’Loughlin’s second try at the end of 25 exhaustive phases. Byrne beat Earls to a couple of searching kicks, Munster hanging on until Carbery injected some pace – following a Sexton-Tadhg Furlong wraparound – to send O’Loughlin over from the left wing.
Keatley had to come to Munster’s rescue on the resumption, Barry Daly threatening from a grubber kick before a Farrell high tackle allowed Sexton to make it 17-7.
With some deft Leinster handling and Jack Conan breaking their defensive line, Munster needed a big response and they got it with flanker O’Donnell’s terrific break from his own 22, his well-timed pass sending Earls over in the left corner past Byrne’s last-ditch tackle.
JJ Hanrahan missed the difficult conversion and Sexton quickly snatched back control, knocking over successive penalties to reward the home scrum and Josh van der Flier’s breakdown work.
The Munster forwards were then thwarted from a couple of gilt-edged maul opportunities, with full-back Hanrahan needing to react swiftly at the other end to deny Daly a try from Jamison Gibson-Park’s grubber.
Munster were disjointed at times, bringing back bad memories of their last two Dublin defeats to Saracens and the Scarlets, but they took home a point after very good work off a lineout and quick transfers from Farrell and Conway allowed Earls to complete his brace in the corner.
Leinster Rugby’s European campaign kicks off next Saturday at the RDS Arena against Montpellier. Join the roar and get your tickets.