Munster magic works again

MUNSTER coach TonyMcGahan wasn’t in the mood to bask in the glory of this Magners League derby victory at Thomond Park on Saturday night.

Though his side had walloped their great rivals with an impressive showing that opens a seven-point gap at the top of the table, McGahan’s focus quickly moved onto next weekend’s more pressing engagement of a Heineken Cup quarter-final against the Ospreys.

The Australian batted away the plaudits after watching his side outplay and outthink Leinster with Ronan O’Gara leading by example with another man-of-the-match performance.

McGahan insisted: “We just want to put this game to bed at the moment and worry about the Ospreys.

“I think it is vital to go into a big game like that against quality opposition and get a result. So we wouldcertainly rather it that way. We’re pleased with the result, but we’re looking forward to next week.

“The first half was a very scrappyaffair and I don’t think from our point of view we showed too much,” continued McGahan. “We toughed things out. I thought the first 20 minutes of the second half was better from us.”

McGahan had reason to be cheerful.

There was no sign of any fatigue on the part of his Grand Slam heroes; O’Gara seems to have continued where he left off in Cardiff while young guns like Keith Earls, Barry Murphy and Ian Dowling leave him with plenty of selection headaches ahead of the European title defence.

Leinster started brightly with Rocky Elsom and Cian Healy to the fore but their good work counted for nought as Felipe Contepomi endured a nightmare evening with the boot.

Girvan Dempsey and Shane Horgan, two forgotten men in Ireland’s Grand Slam triumph, looked lively in attack but Munster’s experienced hands soaked up the early pressure.

Munster used their forward guile — with Alan Quinlan effective at the breakdown and in broken play — and their speed out wide to gain territory.

Doug Howlett threatened twice before O’Gara kicked two penalties in the space of six minutes to move Munster ahead on the scoreboard.

Referee Christophe Berdos upset the Munster crowd when he failed to play an advantage as Ian Dowling charged down the left, but a 6-0 interval lead was fair on the balance of play. But with nothing to show for their first halfefforts, Leinster had plenty to do.

On the restart, Munster drew a penalty at a breakdown and O’Gara landed the resulting kick.

Wallaby star Elsom carried the fight but too few of his Leinster team-mates were stepping up to the mark and Munster’s clinical edge quickly saw them forage ahead. O’Gara was at the heart of it, as he followed up on his own sublime touch-finding kick to drop a masterful goal after Paul O’Connell produced a lineout steal.

With Contepomi missing his second and third penalty attempts, Munster moved out of sight on 62 minutes when Earls danced along the left touchline and muscled over in the corner past Kearney. David Wallace freed up Earls with an excellent offload and the Limerick-born centre handed off Healy before making the line before Kearney’s last-gasp challenge.

O’Gara missed the conversion and Horgan, combining well on the loop with Isa Nacewa, sent Gordon D’Arcy through for a well-taken try as Leinster showed signs of a revival.

But Contepomi failed to add the extras and although Munster lost Lifeimi Mafi to the sin-bin late on — for tangling with Jonathan Sexton — they rubbed salt into Leinster wounds when O’Gara unleashed Barry Murphy down the left and his well-timed pass sent Fogarty over for another try.

Losing coach Michael Cheika didn’t sugarcoat his feelings afterwards.

“We’re very disappointed. I thought in the physical stakes, we stepped right up to the mark, but unfortunately we didn’t take our opportunities.

“We had some excellent positions to launch attacks on their line. But sometimes those opportunities don’t go your way and tonight they didn’t.

“Then we made a few mistakes at the ruck and allowed a couple of turnovers and that was enough for them to get a couple of tries.

“You’ve got to make sure you make as few errors as possible and we probably made two or three too many and that cost us maybe 10 points.”

MUNSTER: P. Warwick, D. Howlett, K. Earls, L. Mafi, I Dowling, R. O’Gara, T. O’Leary, M. Horan, J. Flannery, J. Hayes, D. O’Callaghan, P. O’Connell, A. Quinlan, D. Wallace, N. Ronan.

Replacements: P. Stringer for O’Leary (68), B. Murphy for Dowling (68), D. Fogarty for Flannery (78), M. O’Driscoll for O’Callaghan (74), D. Ryan for Ronan (68), T. Buckley for Hayes (70), D. Fogarty for Flannery (78), D. Hurley for O’Gara (80).

LEINSTER: G. Dempsey, I. Nacewa, G. D’Arcy, S. Horgan, R. Kearney, f. Contepomi, C. Whitaker, C. Healy, B. Jackman, S. Wright, L. Cullen (captain), M. O’Kelly, R. Elsom, J. Heaslip, S. Jennings.

Replacements: J. Sexton for Dempsey (50), J. Fogarty for Jackman (31), T. Hogan for O’Kelly (65), S. O’Brien for Jennings (70).

Referee: C. Berdos (France).


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