Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium
THIS WAS FAR from a complete or perfect performance from Leinster, yet therein lies the beauty of a fourth straight win over their southern neighbours, as Leo Cullen’s side continue to build momentum heading into Europe.
Leinster were forced to dig deep during an absorbing inter-pro derby played with a feisty edge, as Munster enjoyed large spells of possession and territory, only for the home side to show their champion qualities in both attack and defence.
Leo Cullen’s side have developed a habit of winning, and even here when Munster threw everything at them to come back from 14 and 15-point deficits to make it a one-score game, Leinster did enough to keep them at arm’s length and grind out an important victory.
The eastern province have now won eight of the nine fixtures between the sides at the redeveloped Aviva Stadium since 2010, while Cullen’s charges have won 10 successive games at the venue.
James Lowe, the box-office Kiwi winger, provided the magic for the hosts as his brace of tries — one in each half — ensured Leinster remained ahead on the scoreboard, while man-of-the-match Ross Byrne was immaculate off the tee, kicking 13 points during an assured display.
All of this without a host of frontline internationals, as Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose, Jordan Larmour and Tadhg Furlong kicked back in the stands ahead of the start of Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup defence in six days’ time.
“We’re pleased with the result,” Cullen said afterwards. “There are certainly aspects of the performance which we will have a very close look at. I thought Munster came with good intent, we got off to a good start and James caused a bit of damaged down the left side which leads to two tries in relatively quick succession.
“It allows us to build a lead in the game and we always had our noses in front. I thought Ross managed the game quite well, Munster came back strong at various different stages in the game.
“I picked a team today with next week in mind so it was good to get the win and to see a lot of guys come through relatively unscathed.”
Apart from the usual bumps and bruises, Leinster’s returning players came through the attritional test reporting no immediate effects, with the likes of Jack McGrath, Dan Leavy, James Ryan and Sean O’Brien getting through big shifts to sharpen their form.
“We’re delighted to get those guys through,” Cullen continued. “Is it the perfect game for them to do it? It’s the perfect game having got through it and got a positive result.
Dan Leavy was back causing havoc. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
“Looking before the game, you’re nervous about the prospect of them coming up against a team that is more battle-hardened than we were, but having come through it now, we’re very pleased.”
While Leinster showed their clinical edge at one end to punish Munster at key stages, it was their well-drilled defensive unit which again fronted up impressively, with blue shirts forced to make twice as many tackles during the 80 minutes.
Leavy, Ryan and O’Brien were all tireless in their work on both sides of the ball, and their return to fitness now adds further to the competition for selection ahead of the visit of Wasps to the RDS on Friday.
“We did soak up a fair bit of pressure at different stages, we still conceded a few tries, which is not ideal,” Cullen said of his side’s defensive effort.
“We were a little bit disjointed at times, which gets yourselves in those situations. You need to ask yourself why are we having to defend five-metre scrums, a series of them, or why are we having to defend lineout drives in the corner so there were certain things that get us into those situations which we need to be able to manage better.
“All told a lot of guys put their hand up today, so plenty of food for thought for us as coaches. It is a quick turnaround. Hopefully we’ll get a big crowd into the RDS next Friday.”
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