More Aviva misery for Munster as Leinster 'Lite' send Reds to Belfast for URC quarter-final

Their failure to even muster a losing bonus point in Dublin means Munster finished the regular season in sixth place but have avoided a dreaded away trip to South Africa
More Aviva misery for Munster as Leinster 'Lite' send Reds to Belfast for URC quarter-final

TRY: Scott Penny scores Leinster's first try in their 35-25 win over Munster in the United Rugby Championship at the Aviva Stadium. Pic: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

URC: Leinster 35 Munster 25

MUNSTER'S bid for a home United Rugby Championship quarter-final ended in failure in Dublin as Johann van Graan’s men slumped to defeat against a weakened Leinster side Saturday night.

Their failure to even muster a losing bonus point at Aviva Stadium means Munster finished the regular season in sixth place but have avoided a dreaded away trip to South Africa and must instead visit Belfast to take on Ulster in the quarters on June 4.

Leinster finished the final round as they started it, in first place, their 13th win in 18 games coming with a bonus point topped by a man of the match performance by full-back Jordan Larmour on his return from injury to stake a claim for a place on Ireland’s summer tour to New Zealand with a dazzling display of counter-attacking.

Scott Penny, Cormac Foley, a penalty try and Rory O’Loughlin did the damage in a game that saw Munster twice come from behind to take the lead, first through captain Jack O’Donoghue and Mike Haley and then Conor Murray as the visitors led 19-15 and then 22-18 early in the second half.

That was as good as it got as Munster’s hopes unravelled and Leinster further displayed their superior strength in depth a week out from the Heineken Champions Cup final.

Munster had started the weekend in second place on 56 but had dropped to fifth following Friday night’s games with Ulster, the Bulls and Sharks all moving above them after playing their last-round matches.

Saturday’s earlier game had seen the Stormers leapfrog them all with a bonus-point win at Scarlets to send Munster down to sixth place 15 minutes kick-off.

PENALTY TRY: Leinster's Ryan Baird celebrates the awarding of a penalty at the Aviva Stadium. 
PENALTY TRY: Leinster's Ryan Baird celebrates the awarding of a penalty at the Aviva Stadium. 

At least they knew what was required, a bonus point win themselves to claim second place on a superior points difference to the Cape Towners.

Leinster’s team selection had raised eyebrows with Leo Cullen making 15 changes from the side which had started the 40-17 victory over Toulouse seven days previously, the head coach keeping his first-choice XV in cotton wool ahead of next Saturday’s Champions Cup final against La Rochelle. 

Yet though this was a second-string team, it was one which had toured South Africa in similar circumstances at the end of April and returned with a creditable two losing bonus points to get their province over the line as URC table toppers.

They started like a train in front of 32,411 supporters, Leinster taking the lead inside two minutes after regaining Harry Byrne’s short kick-off on the 10-metre line, inside centre Ciaran Frawley sending a pinpoint Crossfield kick to the right wing where flanker Scott Penny was waiting, the back-rower powering through Joey Carbery’s tackle to score the opening try.

Byrne missed the touchline conversion but nailed a penalty on eight minutes to push Leinster’s lead to 8-0. It was not the start Munster would have envisaged or wished for but they responded in kind and quickly, profiting from strong work on the wing from Andrew Conway whose kick-chase pressure from a Carbery punt down the right wing earned his side a lineout inside the Leinster 22.

Munster scored from the set-piece, working the ball through the phases from edge to edge before Keith Earls sent a long skip pass to back to the right corner where captain Jack O’Donoghue was waiting to touch down. Carbery missed the touchline conversion but quickly had another opportunity as Munster again struck from a close-range lineout, and again working the ball inside, from where Mike Haley pounced, picking recycled ball off the deck to run under the posts. Carbery struck the extras from in front of the posts and Munster were 12-8 in front with two tries inside the first quarter.

It made for a blistering start to this derby and the high tempo continued, Leinster sparked into life by full-back Jordan Larmour on his return from injury, fielding a kick ahead from Alex Kendellen and jinking past three flailing Munster tackles before being tackled over halfway by Conor Murray. It did not stop the home side’s go-forward before a midfield break on 10 minutes sent scrum-half Cormac Foley through to a try on his home debut, Byrne converting.

Leinster took their 15-12 lead into the half-time break but not before they lost wing Rob Russell for a deliberate knock-on that cut out a pass to Kendellen as Munster looked to counter-attack.

Munster took full advantage on the restart to the second half, Conor Murray skipping free of midfield to score in the 41st minute with Carbery’s conversion opening a 19-15 lead. That was three tries down for Munster but Leinster were not in the mood to hand their rivals a victory let alone a bonus point on a plate. Harry Byrne sent over a penalty v and though Carbery sent over a penalty in reply, it was Munster who quickly found themselves on the back foot, courtesy of a brilliant 50-22 relieving kick from Foley that completely turned the game on its head.

OPENER: Munster's Jack O'Donoghue scores his side's first try despite the tackle of Cormac Foley at the Aviva Stadium. 
OPENER: Munster's Jack O'Donoghue scores his side's first try despite the tackle of Cormac Foley at the Aviva Stadium. 

Leinster mauled the resulting lineout and Munster could not find an answer, collapsing the maul and sending referee Frank Murphy under the posts to award a penalty try, then producing a yellow card for Niall Scannell for the Munster pack’s misdemeanour.

Reduced to 14 men, Munster were hit by another hammer blow less than two minutes later as Larmour once again bamboozled the visiting defence with a dazzling display of footwork that sucked in defenders and left space out wide for wing Rory O’Loughlin to score in the left corner. Byrne’s touchline conversion sent Leinster into 10-point lead as Munster reeled from the sudden reversal of fortune.

Carbery closed the gap to 32-55 with a penalty on 61 minutes, as Munster refocused on getting back into this contest rather than grabbing a fourth try. Yet van Graan’s side still needed both the win and bonus point and losing Andrew Conway on his first game back from a knee injury sustained in the Six Nations was another setback.

Niall Scannell’s return from the sin bin at least restored parity of numbers but Leinster had the momentum and Byrne once again reopened a 10-point lead with a 70th minute penalty that took the losing bonus point out of Munster’s hands.

Munster needed a spark of their own heading into the final 10 minutes but were struggling to find to ignite as Leinster’s defence held firm and waited for the visitors to make a mistake, however long it took. Munster’s long periods of possession ended in disappointment, Jamie Osborne’s crunching tackle into touch of replacement Jack Daly doubly so as it ended the back-rower’s involvement, leaving the contest on the back of a first aid cart.

It was a sorry end and now Munster have a fortnight to regroup before van Graan’s last stab at a trophy before he leaves for Bath.

LEINSTER: J Larmour; R Russell, J Osborne, C Frawley (A Byrne, 25 - HIA), R O’Loughlin; H Byrne (D Hawkshaw, 76), C Foley (B Murphy, 57); E Byrne – captain (P Dooley, 49), S Cronin (J McKee, 49), T Clarkson (C Healy, 49); J McCarthy (A Soroka, 65), J Murphy (D Toner, 54); R Baird, S Penny, M Deegan.

Yellow card: R Russell 39-49.

MUNSTER: M Haley; A Conway (B Healy, 63), C Farrell, D Goggin (R Scannell, 54), K Earls; J Carbery, C Murray (P Patterson, 75); J Wycherley (J Loughman, 54), N Scannell, J Ryan (K Knox, 53); J Kleyn (J Jenkins, 48), T Ahern (J Daly, 64); F Wycherley, A Kendellen (D Barron, 59-63), J O’Donoghue - captain.

Yellow card: N Scannell 51-61.

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)

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