Leinster 25 Munster 14: However preoccupied the coaching staff at Racing 92 may be as they deal with the fallout from leaked positive dope test results, a look at the tape of Munster’s defeat in Dublin will provide an altogether more welcome shot in the arm.
A week before the two Laurents, Travers and Labit, and a certain Ronan O’Gara welcome the Irish province to Stade Yves du Manoir for the opening Champions Cup pool game, the French champions were treated to the sort of defensive calamities from Munster that opposition coaches view as manna from heaven.
Leinster were certainly delighted recipients of gifts wrapped in red that permitted them to move into their European build-up with a spring in their step ahead of Castres’ visit to the RDS on Saturday.
For Munster, playing in Paris a day later, the extra 24 hours will allow for the bitterness of this derby defeat at the Aviva Stadium to fester a little longer and for exasperated director of rugby Rassie Erasmus to attempt to tidy up the mess.
Facing Leinster in Dublin at the weekend represented the first real litmus test of Munster’s progress since the summer arrival of the South African in Limerick.
It was also a much-needed examination given the two stiff European challenges that now follow, the trip to Racing followed by a tricky Thomond Park date with Glasgow Warriors six days later.
Which is why Saturday’s defeat at the hands of their fiercest rivals by three tries to two was a wake-up call, perhaps as much for Erasmus as his players, after three straight Guinness PRO12 wins, four from the first five rounds of league play.
That two of those tries conceded, in the 35th and 67th minutes, were the softest of scores for a grateful Leinster — the one in between, on 55 minutes, had more than a hint of a forward pass from Rob Kearney to Isa Nacewa — will fuel the former Springbok in his work this week, as will his own players’ failure to make the most of their own opportunities.
Erasmus said: “It was a step up, definitely, intensity-wise, higher than previous games, but as a reality check, if you’re going to give them 14 points, you’re going to lose the game by (giving them) 14 points on a platter.
“That’s the reality. If you don’t learn from that then the next two, three games will be really tough.
“Intensity-wise it was up, but I didn’t think it was something we shouldn’t be able to handle, I thought we could have handled that much better.
“They scored one more try than us and I think we were over the line once (only for James Cronin to be penalised for a double movement), so we could have scored three and they scored three, overall
“I think that tells the story. There are different ways to attack, I think certainly we had opportunities… but they see opportunities against us because we gave away silly tries.”
The first Leinster try came after the visitors had edged in front on 26 minutes, captain Peter O’Mahony marking his comeback from a year-long injury absence finishing a mighty rolling maul and Tyler Bleyendaal converting from the left touchline to move Munster 7-6 in front following two early Johnny Sexton penalties.
From the restart, Sexton was pulling the strings, Munster on the back foot and lucky to get off the hook when Garry Ringrose knocked on as he stole into space to chase a sublime grubber kick from the Leinster and Ireland fly-half.
A try went begging but Munster could not get out of their 22 and after O’Mahony knocked on in a ruck, Leinster got their desserts with the greatest of ease, scrum-half Luke McGrath pouncing down the blindside, Sexton’s quick hands feeding Nacewa, who took advantage of Darren Sweetnam’s absence from the corner, the Munster wing getting sucked inside.
“It wasn’t the systems, it was a missed tackle,” Erasmus said, “there was three-on-three on the blindside from a scrum. Flanker (O’Mahony) must get the first man, nine (Conor Murray) must get the second man and wing must make the tackle.
“The winger missed his tackle, there is not even going to be debate about that. Sweets should have made the tackle and he knows that.”
With Leinster ahead 11-7 at the interval, Nacewa grabbed his second after the break, referee David Wilkinson ignoring requests to involve the TMO after Kearney’s pass looked forward.
Their third try, from sub scrum-half Jamieson Gibson-Park, had all the elements of mishap rather than controversy. A Murray box kick was all too easily gathered by Leinster and debutant Robbie Henshaw turned Munster wing Ronan O’Mahony with an excellent side-footed kick into the corner. O’Mahony was unable to mop up, knocked it backwards into the hands of Bleyendaaal, who knocked it forwards into Gibson-Park’s clutches.
Game over, save for a try out wide from Munster loanee Jaco Taute in the dying embers, leaving Erasmus to rue missed chances as well as defensive errors.
Munster had gone wide early on, then narrowed, their lengthy periods of possession failing to break the efficient Leinster line. When James Cronin’s score was disallowed for the double movement in the 48th minute it marked the end of another one of those fruitless, multi-phase visits to the Leinster 22 that annoyed his boss intensely.
“If you get those big moments, if you go in at half-time four points behind away from home, to a team like this who has quality all over, and you camp there for 10-15 minutes inside their 22, you must come away with five, seven, three points, and we came away with a penalty against us.
“It wasn’t only the try- scoring action my problem was with, it was more there were options out wide when we were attacking there, so if you win those big moments suddenly you’re in the game and the next 30 minutes are a dog fight, but then all of a sudden you get a penalty against you and they score a soft try, so we must learn to use those big moments.”
Ahead of their visit to Paris, it will have to be a quickly absorbed lesson.
R Kearney (N Reid, 75); R O’Loughlin, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa – captain; J Sexton (J Carbery, 67), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park, 63); C Healy (J McGrath, 49), S Cronin (J Tracy, 53), T Furlong (M Ross, 63); D Toner, I Nagle (R Molony, 53); R Ruddock, J Murphy (D Leavy, 61), J Heaslip.
S Zebo; D Sweetnam, K Earls (J Taute, 57), R Scannell (I Keatley, 71), R O’Mahony; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne (J Cronin, 45), N Scannell (D Casey, 75), J Ryan (S Archer, 63); D Ryan (R Copeland, 69), B Holland; P O’Mahony – captain (J O’Donoghue, h-t), T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
David Wilkinson (IRFU).
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