Munster 19 Leinster 15
A win over the old enemy, some sparkling play and a rousing, wholehearted performance. This was not what is supposed to happen to Munster in the week before a Heineken Cup match.
The path to Europe has customarily required a post-mortem of the misfiring display of the preceding weekend but after this encouraging first victory in five meetings over Leinster there will be no need to search souls or visit wells in search of the recipe for success.
On the contrary.
Things are looking incredibly rosy in head coach Rob Penney’s garden ahead of an opening pool game against Edinburgh at Murrayfield on Saturday afternoon following this win over a rival province that looked more than a little listless in attack in the absence of Brian O’Driscoll and following the summer departures of Joe Schmidt, Jonathan Sexton and Isa Nacewa, respectively.
Not that Munster will give a hoot about the transitional problems facing Schmidt’s successor Matt O’Connor. This was a win against a team whose recent achievements are still ones to which the southern province needs to aspire, but it was nonetheless deserved.
Hungrier for work, brighter in attack, more committed in defence and stronger in the set-piece, this not only avenged four straight RaboDirect Pro12 defeats to Leinster and gave Penney his first win over them but also answered a lot of questions about the direction he has taken Munster over the past 16 months since succeeding Tony McGahan.
In five games this season there has been enough good play from Munster to suggest Penney’s aim of making his players better decision makers equipped to play what they see in front of them rather than sticking to a particular plan is beginning to bear fruit.
It may have needed some pretty abject performances to be suffered along the way last season but to have come out the other side and having lost Doug Howlett and Ronan O’Gara to retirement, bodes well for Munster’s prospects this season and beyond.
Ian Keatley, O’Gara’s successor in the number 10 jersey, deserves a lot of the credit for Saturday night’s victory and not just for the four penalties and one conversion he kicked. Nor even for the way he engineered the only try of the game for Keith Earls in the 31st minute, courtesy of a line break from halfway and a kick-chase into the left-hand corner that led to not just a penalty when Ian Madigan came in at the side of a ruck but also saw the visiting fly-half sin-binned for the crime.
Keatley kicked for the corner instead of the goal and from the ensuing lineout sent over a wonderful crossfield kick to the opposite corner which Earls caught and then outfoxed full-back Rob Kearney to score.
No, it was all that and more as Munster fought and scrapped for every ball and Keatley helped keep the opposition pegged inside their own half for most of the closing quarter of an hour after he had kicked his side into a 19-15 lead after 63 minutes.
For Penney, that final rearguard was perhaps the icing on the cake and an important signifier of the improvement and development of his players during his tenure.
“I just thought the way we closed out when at times last year we weren’t able to close matches out (was most pleasing),” Penney said. “At times we took control with our set-piece and just ripped the game away from them really, took the opportunity away from them to have a sniff.
“I was just really rapt with.... I don’t know if you’ll remember but there was a scrum on halfway (in the 58th minute), the ball went out to Conor (Murray) and he grubbered it through and behind and there was a lineout and the scrum had got a bit of go-forward and as it broke up Donnacha Ryan was just patting young James Cronin on the back, slapping his back.
“He’s sprinting up and down here into the corner and the lineout, giving everyone a real buzz. That body language just says to me, just shows how much it means to the lads to perform well in front of their people here and what I’m really hopeful of is that this is a little springboard to greater things.
“There’s some talented people here and this team is capable of doing some good things. And wouldn’t it be great to watch them unfold during the next period of time if they can take it as far as I think they possibly can?”
MUNSTER: F Jones (D Hurley, 67); K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, D Williams (C Murray, 53); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin, 56), M Sherry (D Varley, 56), S Archer (BJ Botha, 67); D Ryan, P O’Connell; P O’Mahony – captain (CJ Stander, h-t), N Ronan (D O’Callaghan, 67), J Coughlan.
LEINSTER: R Kearney; F McFadden (L Fitzgerald, 56), L Tuqiri (J Gopperth, 73), G D’Arcy, D Kearney; I Madigan, E Reddan (I Boss, 56); C Healy (J McGrath, 63), S Cronin (A Dundon, 67), M Ross (M Moore, 67); M McCarthy, D Toner; K McLaughlin, S O’Brien (D Ryan, 63), J Heaslip.
Referee: Romain Poite (FFR).
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