Skipper Paul O’Connell’s participation in the Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont may hang in the balance if he is cited by commissioner Eddie Walsh after his boot came into contact with both the ball and head of Dave Kearney midway through the second half of Saturday’s fiercely contested RaboDirect Pro12 game in Limerick.
To suggest O’Connell should have been sent off for the incident is nonsense given that there was clearly no intent to injure the Leinster wing and that contact was made with the ball. It is a matter of opinion, however, as to whether he was guilty of careless or reckless play.
Welsh referee Nigel Owens was right on the spot and must have seen what happened. He took no action. Kearney suffered concussion serious enough to warrant his coach Joe Schmidt stating that he was “unconscious for a period of time”, while the television pictures don’t favour the Munster talisman.
As for this latest battle of two of the game’s keenest rivals, Leinster pulled off a magnificent victory against a fired up home side, demonstrating admirable fighting qualities in coming back from a four-point second-half deficit while playing into the strong, swirling wind and heavy rain. Not for the first time, Brian O’Driscoll was their match-winner with a trademark try, but it was a true team effort of which Schmidt was understandably proud.
“You can either drop your heads and be frustrated and disappointed or you can square up and go forward and I’m really proud of the way the boys did that,” he stated.
“They now have a bit of time to glue themselves together and it’s a really exciting and high pressure time of the season.”
And yet, if Leinster have good reason to expect another favourable outcome from their Amlin Cup semi-final clash against Biarritz at the RDS on Saturday week, Munster shouldn’t feel their chances of beating Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup in Montpelier on the same weekend have been in any way diminished by this result.
Schmidt generously made the point that they may have tired in the closing stages having had only a six-day turn around after the heroics of The Stoop and his Munster counterpart Rob Penney also felt that was a factor.
“We came off a massive emotional high over the last few days with a six-day turn around for the lads to get back on the horse, I couldn’t be prouder”, he maintained.
“The attitude was there, the commitment to the jersey and the province was there. It was a tight game. We didn’t take our opportunities and they took theirs and that’s the difference in those games.”
Munster scored two tries (both beautifully taken by Ian Keatley and Felix Jones) to Leinster’s one, even if Schmidt seemed to be on solid ground when claiming a fair touchdown for his side by Kearney in the first half and that O’Driscoll was illegally impeded by James Downey before Jones went over.
While Leinster have clearly discovered the precious knack of winning tight matches, that still can’t be said of Munster, in spite of the win over Harlequins.
The Amlin-Rabo double is very much on the cards for a Leinster side so well equipped in almost every area of the field that even Jonny Sexton may face a battle to regain his place such is the ongoing effectiveness of his out-half substitute Ian Madigan.
They have injury concerns, but Isaac Boss, standing in for the luckless Eoin Reddan at scrum-half, was voted man of the match and the relatively early losses of Gordon D’Darcy and Quinn Roux didn’t seem to upset their rhythm to any degree.
Madigan, match-winner O’Driscoll and Kearney were just as influential as one expected them to be. Up front, the battle was unrelenting, with towering performances from several players, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy, Mike Ross for Leinster, O’Connell and the entire back-row of James Coughlan, Tommy O’Donnell and Peter O’Mahony for Munster.
It was hardly a night for outstanding back play but Munster will take solace from an outstanding performance by Simon Zebo and another much improved contribution from James Downey.
LEINSTER: R Kearney; D Kearney, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, I Nacewa; I Madigan, I Boss; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), Q Roux, S O’Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip.
Replacements: A Goodman for D’Arcy, injured, 13; D Toner for Roux, injured, 28; R Strauss for Cronin 51; J McGrath for Healy, 50; A Conway for D Kearney, 60.
MUNSTER: F Jones; D Hurley, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, S Archer, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (capt), P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.
Replacements: B Holland for Donnacha O’Callaghan 53; M Sherry and BJ Botha for Varley and Archer, 61; Dave O’Callaghan for Coughlan, 73; J Cronin for Kilcoyne, 78.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).