A rivalry as old as Irish Rugby itself. Munster once dominated and were the more feared side in Europe, with Leinster a side inflicted by the nearly-men curse. Those roles have been reversed in the last decade, with Leinster wins becoming more frequent in this fixture. While the side in the east of Ireland have lifted 3 League titles in a row and consistently challenging in Europe, it’s Munster who are now suffering a drought and losing games on big occasions. Connacht’s win in the RDS a few weeks ago should Leinster aren’t as invincible as the last year and a half of Pro14 games would suggest. Connacht were intense, energetic, and near flawless that day, bringing Leinster back down to Earth. Munster will have left the pitch on Saturday feeling they should have handed their provincial rivals a 2nd defeat of the season in what could be a League final preview.
Withe Leinster’s 10-13 win, the equaled the record for most consecutive wins in this fixture they set between 2009-2010 with 5 wins. Since Munster beat Leinster in the League Final in 2011, Munster have only won 5 of the 22 games between the sides. The Southern Province have only won once in the past 5 seasons, and have lost 3 semi-finals against Leinster on the Boys in Blue’s route to 3 league titles in a row. Getting to those League semi-finals shows that Munster are getting there, as those the 3-point scoreline and the fact that this is the 4th successive game between the sides that was quite close. But the 90-56 aggregate scoreline in favor of Leinster over the last 5 games, all Leinster wins, shows there is a gulf in class, one many Leinster fans could only dream of in the 00’s
Munster lead from the 5th minute when Hanrahan kicked a penalty until the 69th minute when Jordan Larmour crossed the line after a beautiful side step. Crucially, Munster’s last score was the conversion from Beirne’s try in the 12th minute. Despite having the better of much of the play, they were not clinical. If you fail to score for over an hour in a rugby match against a side that has dominated the league and has had your number, your liable to receive a gut punch. That gut punch game with 11 minutes to go after Ross Byrne did well to set up Larmour and respond to any complaints about him potentially being Ireland’s number 2 number 10 in the Six Nations.
The game was delicately poised, which suited Leinster more than Munster. It seems obvious to say, but if Munster had built a lead during their dominance early in the 2nd half they would have likely held on as Leinster were not having their best game. Munster looked to have the momentum when they won a turnover on their own line, and had the opportunity to make it a 10-point game with a penalty just before halftime. Agonizingly it hit the post, resulting in Leinster finding an attacking platform, winning a penalty, and scoring. A game that should have had a 10-point difference had a 4-point difference at the break. Munster had something to doubt themselves over, Leinster had proof that they were the more clinical side.
It’s an issue Ireland have faced at times over the past while. Having plenty of chances, not taking them, then receiving a hammer blow. The hammer-blow this time around was delivered by Larmour side-stepping his way over the line off a lineout play. Ross Byrne expertly landed the conversion to make sure Munster would need a try to win the game. Munster were deflated, Leinster, like great teams do, won a game where they were 2nd best for the majority.
The biggest game of the season is now Ulster v Leinster, which is a must win for Ulster to reach the final. If Ulster were to drop many points in their remaining games we’ll likely see a repeat of this fixture, possibly in the Aviva, at the end of the League campaign before a new era begins.