Leinster 23 – 17 Munster
Munster entered this game looking to end their Aviva Stadium hoodoo, the men in red lost on all occasions in their three trips to Irish Rugby HQ last season.
It was a tight opening 15 minutes where both sides had prolonged periods of possession without looking overly dangerous. Andrew Conway made a break down the right wing but after recycling the ball, good pressure from Leinster in defence led to the impressive Adam Byrne intercepting and ultimately ending Munster’s attacking move.
Leinster were guilty of unforced errors themselves when they found themselves in Munster’s 22 and it was a case of both teams feeling each other out in the opening 15 minutes. Munster thought they struck the first blow when Keith Earls dummied his way to the try line but the play was brought back due to an obvious forward pass in the build-up from Chris Farrell. Bizarrely enough, the referee missed it in real-time until he saw it on the big screen himself.
Leinster got themselves back into the Munster 22 soon after and Rory O’Loughlin got his first try of the game when he bounced off the tackle of John Ryan to touch down underneath the posts. Sexton made no mistake with the conversion and it was 7-0 to the home team after 17 minutes on the clock.
Things got worse for Munster when Niall Scannell was sent to the bin for cynically knocking the ball down when Leinster were attempting to complete a pass. But Munster scored just five minutes later when Ian Keatley intercepted the ball after Robbie Henshaw fumbled in midfield.
Leinster soon had another period of prolonged possession and they began putting up a lot of high balls for Adam Byrne to contest with, the Kildare man was causing quite a few problems which led to some chaotic scenes in the Munster defence. Eventually, Leinster scored their second try through a move we have seen so many times before with Leinster and Ireland – the ‘Sexton Loop.’
O’Loughlin went over for his second try of the game as the Sexton loop led to Joey Carbery getting the ball and committing the last defender and leaving O’Loughlin with a simple run-in.
It was 14-7 at the break and Leinster kept the foot on the throat at the beginning of the second half when Sexton slotted a penalty after just four minutes in. But then there was a ray of hope for Munster, Earls went over in the corner after Tommy O’Donnell made a scything linebreak. Byrne almost got the Limerick man into touch but Earls got the ball down in time. JJ Hanrahan missed the touchline conversion and suddenly there was a game on our hands.
Unfortunately for the men in red, poor discipline crippled them in the second half when Sexton added another two penalties to push them 23-12 in front.
Munster almost got back into the game again with some powerful lineout mauls but Leinster eventually turned it over and got out of danger.
The last 20 minutes were a drab affair, many changes on both sides led to some fragmented play. Munster got themselves in good position on occasion but Leinster were able to turn the ball over whenever they were threatened.
With just 90 seconds remaining, Munster got a consolation try when that man Earls went over in the same corner as he did earlier in the second half.
Munster regained possession and tried to run it from close to their own try line but as they were getting pushed further back, they decided that the losing bonus point was enough and put the ball out of play.