Leinster go top with epic bonus-point win
Leinster go top with epic bonus-point winSHARE
A first-half blitz, coupled with Jordan Larmour's scintillating solo score, gave Leinster just enough breathing room to hold off a roaring Munster comeback and edge a St Stephen's Day thriller at Thomond Park.
The 34-24 win continued Leinster's recent dominance over their countrymen – they have lost only once to a fellow Irish province in the last 12 months – and also means they have now triumphed in five of their last six encounters with Munster.
For Munster it was a first home defeat in 13 games and brought a five-match winning run in all competitions to an end.
The visitors flew out of the blocks at a packed Thomond Park, which had its capacity increased to 26,267 for the game due to demand for tickets, as scores from Dan Leavy, Robbie Henshaw and a penalty try had them 27-5 ahead at the break.
Ian Keatley and Andrew Conway crossed early in the second period as the hosts looked set for a remarkable comeback but Larmour's try-of-the-season contender ten minutes from time sealed victory, despite Conway at least securing a four-try bonus point for the hosts at the death.
Leinster earned a penalty after just 30 seconds as Munster held on in the tackle and Ross Byrne nailed the three-pointer from near the right touchline, before the fly-half produced an even more precise kick seven minutes later.
After numerous phases in the home 22, Byrne opted for a pinpoint cross-field punt and picked out Leavy all alone on the left wing – the flanker having the easiest of tasks to dot down.
Byrne's conversion, and a second penalty shortly after, left the shell-shocked hosts 13-0 down with barely ten minutes played but they got on the board thanks to the talismanic Conor Murray.
The electric Alex Wootton had made the initial break down the left wing and after the pack secured ball from an attacking lineout, scrum-half Murray sniped from the base of the ruck as he has done so many times before – darting off the fringe and powering through two defenders from close-range to narrow the deficit to 13-5.
That score proved to be little more than a temporary obstacle for the Leinster juggernaut however, as two tries in quick succession midway through the first half appeared to put the result beyond doubt.
Firstly, winger James Lowe – playing in his first Munster-Leinster derby – hared after a Rory O'Loughlin grubber kick but was hauled back by Conway as he was about to collect and touch down, leaving referee Nigel Owens no option but to award the penalty try.
And two minutes later, the visitors notched a spectacular team score.
Exciting young full-back Larmour – who looks destined to be a future Guinness PRO14 superstar – demonstrated his incredible pace after picking up a loose ball, fed Rory O'Loughlin, who shifted the ball to Barry Daly and although the winger was tackled on 22, he popped the offload from his knees to the supporting Henshaw, who cantered over.
Munster limped into half-time with a 27-5 deficit but came roaring back after the break.
Sustained pressure in the visiting 22 saw them draw in the defence and Keately scythed over from close-range before duly adding the conversion.
Conway then produced a brilliant score as Niall Scannell fired a miss-pass wide to the full-back midway in the Leinster half, he put on the after-burners to dart inside one defender, swerved outside another and dotted down – the conversion meaning Leinster's 22-point half-time advantage was reduced to just eight.
The Thomond Park crowd were rocking but Leinster steadied the ship and sealed victory thanks to Larmour's brilliance on 69 minutes.
The former Ireland Under-20 star collected a kick in his own half, jinked past two men almost immediately, raced away and slipped inside another helpless defender before holding off the covering Simon Zebo for a truly magnificent try.
There was still time for Conway to grab his second score in the left corner but it only secured Munster a four-try bonus as the visitors deservedly took five points.
Tries:Murray, Keatley, Conway 2
Cons: Keatley 2
Tries:Leavy, penalty try, Henshaw, Larmour
Cons: Byrne 3, penalty try does not require a conversion
Pens: Byrne 2
Yellow card: Andrew Conway (Munster, 20)
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Peter O'Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 James Cronin, 18 John Ryan, 19 Darren O'Shea, 20 Jack O'Donoghue, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Simon Zebo.
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Barry Daly, 13 Rory O'Loughlin, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Jordi Murphy, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Michael Bent, 2 James Tracy, 1 Jack McGrath (captain).
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Cathal Marsh, 23 Noel Reid.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher, Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)