Leinster get past Munster in Pro14 semi

A 9th final in 11 years awaits Leinster next Sunday after they continued their winning run against Munster in the Aviva Stadium. For the 3rd consecutive season Munster fell to the boys in blue in a Pro14 final. The previous year they were beaten finalists against Scarlets.

Muntser took the lead early through a penalty which JJ Hanrahan converted. However Ronan Kelleher would cross the line in the 27th minute with captain Sexton adding the conversion to put Leinster in front. Sexton hit a penalty late in the first half to make the gap a converted try.

There wasn’t another score until after the hour mark. Sexton pushed the lead to 10 points with a penalty. Munster put pressure on but it became apparent as the game went on it wasn’t their day. Leinster defended doggedly, Josh van der Flier was shown yellow with 5 to go. Hanrahan missed two penalties.

Of the ten previous finals Leinster have only failed to reach two. Munster have made three in that time, but have not lifted the trophy since 2011, where they beat Leinster. They were beaten finalists against Glasgow (who lifted their first title) in 2015, and Scarlets in 2017.

Leinster are the only team to lift consecutive league titles in the Pro12/Pro14/Celtic League, which they have done twice. If Leinster win the tournament this year, they will be the first team to win three in a row.

After going behind Leinster put Munster under extreme pressure, which ultimately led to the try. But it wasn’t a case of Munster having none of the ball. Early on Peter O’Mahony led the charge as Munster started brightly.

However, while Munster’s wingers were dangerous in the match two weeks ago at the Aviva and against Connacht, they were without opportunity this week. Keith Earls only had the opportunity to make one carry, Andrew Conway only had three. Comparatively Leinster’s wingers James Lowe and Andrew Conway had seven and six carriers respectively. The fact they couldn’t stretch Leinster as much this week showed, with the Boys in Blue’s defensive line getting across the pitch quickly.

Hugo Keenan was a surprise inclusion in the team, but he nailed Conor Murray with tackle just before the try. From there on Leinster controlled the game. Sexton missed one of his three kicks, but outside of that it was a good performance from the Leinster and Ireland captain.

Blows for Munster and Ireland ahead of the new season as Conway went off injured. He’s one of the form Irish players after the restart, and would be worthy of a starting position alongside Keith Earls.

Leinster will face the winner of Saturday nights Pro14 semifinal between Edinburgh and Ulster. Ulster last won the league in 2006. Edinburgh are yet to win the league, having last finished 2nd in 2009.

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Kenny Era Needs To Be Given Time

It’s been a long wait for the Ireland men’s team to return to action, and it’s been even longer to have Stephen Kenny at the wheel. It was an unusual start to the reign, it’s not often that a manager is told he will be replacing a coach after a qualifying campaign, before that manager has had a game in charge in his spell with the team. But when Mick McCarthy took over for a second time, the plan was always, and publicly, to bring in Kenny. There’s pressure on the man who talk Dundalk to the brink of Champions League football in 2016, but the Irish fans and media need to understand that this is a long term project.

The Republic of Ireland men’s team have been in an odd time of ups and downs. Under Trapattoni they nearly got to a World Cup, and qualified for Euro 2012, the first major tournament in 10 years. Euro 2012 was disastrous for the Irish, and from then the writing was on the wall. It seemed Trap just didn’t have faith in creative Irish talent, and din’t have belief in the team.

Martin O’Neil came in alongside Roy Keane. Ireland qualified for Euro 2016, admittedly with help from a Scottish collapse. Euro 2016 will be fondly remembered, despite Ireland only winning 1 game. It seemed like the start of a new positive period in Irish football. However the next campaign was one of missed opportunities, Ireland ended up in a world cup play-off when they really should have topped the group and qualified automatically. From there a hammering against Denmark, and a disappointing subsequent Nations League campaign saw the end of the O’Neil Era.

Then came the announcement that McCarthy would come in for a 2nd spell while Stephen Kenny would take charge of the U21’s, before eventually taking the big job. Mick’s reign saw conservative functional football that has seen Ireland get to a play-off while only scoring 7 goals in 8 games, including 2 games against minnows Gibraltar. Notable performances include at home to Georgia, the 2nd half away to Denmark, at home to Switzerland, and at home to Denmark. 3 and half good days out of 8, with Ireland only taking 5 points from those good games.

Kenny isn’t inheriting a winning team. He’s taking over a team that is lost for identity at the moment and needs to find itself. There’s been a lack of firepower and a lack of creativity in the team. It’ll take time for that to change.

Many seemed to be surprised and perhaps disappointed that Kenny hadn’t brought in a host of new faces in his first squad announcement. He could hardly be expected to do so. The reality of international football is you don’t have as much time to work with players as you do at club level. A whole host of changes wouldn’t be practical. While there are notable absentees, the squad still has excitement around it.

This is a longterm project. Kenny isn’t going to come in here and change the footballing culture immediately. Ireland has been stuck in a rut for some time. It will take time to bed in belief and new faces, and a new positive way of playing. Tonight against Bulgaria we can hope to see signs of positive play and a good structure, but it’s hardly realistic to look for wholesale changes. These players aren’t machines. The first step is to instill believe that Ireland can play football.

Regardless as to whether Ireland top their Nations League group, or qualify for the Euros (which would require two difficult away wins), Kenny’s team ca’t be judged so soon. He should be given until at least the qualifying campaign for Euro 2024. That’s not too many games. By then we can see if he is the man for the job. That’s the reality. There’s no quick fix. There’s a lot of good talent coming through, Idah in Molumby in the senior squad come to mind, but it will take time.

Support the team tonight and on Sunday, and continue to support them regardless of the result.

Kevin Doyle: Why Stephen Kenny...
[Image: OTBSports.com]

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