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Magnificent Munster serve up a tasty Christmas treat

By Aidan Corr
Thomond Park
Munster 29, Leinster 17
SANTA may be safely back in his residence in the North Pole but happy days are here again for Munster and their red army. It was a seasonal feast in front of a festive full house in Limerick tonight reaping an emphatic and sweet home victory and five precious Guinness PRO12 points to top the table.
Leinster failed to score for 37 minutes of the second half with Munster chalking up 15 points.That, in a nutshell, told the story of this game. With a 14-10 lead at half time and two tries scored, Munster were in a good position. They had a lot of possession in that opening half, they looked comfortable and while they had to work extremely hard for their two converted tries, their determination to make this fixture another winning one was clearly evident. Leinster’s defence continued to thwarth them in that opening 40 minutes and there is little doubt that any other opponent in this PRO12 would have conceded more than 14 points at that stage. The second half was a different matter. Leinster never got going, they allowed themselves to be bullied all over the field and overall this was a blue night for Leo Cullen on his return to this venue.
Having made ten changes from the matchday squad that saw action the previous week against Northampton, Leinster came into this game with some apprehension but it was only in the final minutes of the opening period that they eventually conceded the score that cost them the lead.
Muster got first blow with Donnacha Ryan robbing Leinster’s lineout within a minute of the start. Munster blazed forward from the scrum, Jean Klein making good yards before a knock-on spoiled a good Munster scoring chance inside the visitors’ 22. Munster’s next attack saw Leinster turn them over and a fine clearance by Ross Byrne pushed the Reds back into their own 22. After a bout of kicking ping-pong it became clear that Leinster were not going to roll over in this annual fixture. Between the 11th and 15th minutes the Blues put together a series of well-executed attacking moves that eventuall reaped reward. A TMO awarded penalty gave Leinster good position, Jamison Gobson-Park floated a sizzler of a pass to set up the move and full-back Zane Kirchener stormed over from 25 metres out for a brilliantly-taken try which Isa Nacewa converted for a 7-0 lead after 18 minutes.
Munster responded in typical fashion. Bleyendaal launched a high kick and in the resultant maul Munster were awarded a penalty which the out-half popped into touch inside the 22. Then it was back to the old ‘tried and trusted’ tactic that has saved home teams at this venue for generations. Into touch, take the linout and maul over once again proved successful, Simon Zebo getting the nod from the TMO at the second viewing and Bleyendaal again proving that he had the accuracy and the cool head for the big occasion. 7-7 after 22 minutes.
Fourteen minutes before the break Leinster got back into the lead. Munster were penalised 35 metres out and Nacewa’s kick went clean between the posts to put Leinster 10-7 to the good. It was pretty frantic at the breakdown at this stage and Leinster got another penalty on 30 minutes, opting to go to the corner rather than the longer route for the posts. It did not produce a score and that proved to be a costly decision.
With just over two minutes to go before the break, Munster launched another attack on the visitors’ line. Bleyendaal forced a lineout on the 22, Taupe, Murray, Scannell and John Ryan all went close before Darren Sweetman timed his pass perfectly for Ronan O’Mahony to scorch over near the corner at the Mayorstone end. Bleyendaal’s magnificent conversion sent the teams in at the break with Munster leading 14-10 and with two tries in the bag to the visitors’ one.
Andrew Conway replaced the injured Darren Sweetman at the break and he was quickly in the action, forcing a lineout close to the Leinster 22 and then brilliantly fielding an attacking kick to set up another home attack. This game was going to be decided on small margins and quick thinking by Conor Murray placed Tommy O’Donnell for try number three for the home side on 50 minutes, Bleyendaal again showing kicking prowess with a conversion from the touchline to give his side a 21-10 lead. Try number four and the bonus point came five minutes later and again it was penalty, lineout and maul with CJ Stander getting at the end of this drive. Bleyendaal was wide with the conversion but the 26-10 on the scoreboard made nice reading for the home fans.
Leinster were a beaten side well before the final quarter and their management may have been reflecting on the lineout that they sent to Thomond Park for this encounter. It was a night for full force troops and Munster’s formula proved more effective.
Zebo was inches wide with a drop goal attempt and then Bleyendaal popped over a penalty to put his side 29-10 to the good and out of sight of their keen rivals. The Blues got a consolation try three minutes from time, Richardt Strauss going clear for a try, converted by Nacewa to reduce the lead to 29-17 but it was too little too late for the Leinster boys.
Munster: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetman, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Donnacha Ryan; Peter O’Mahony (Capt.), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, Duncan Williams, Francis Saili, Andrew Conway.
LEINSTER:15. Zane Kirchner; 14. Isa Nacewa, 13. Rory O’Loughlin, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. Barry Daly; 10. Ross Byrne, 9. Jamison Gibson-Park; 1. Cian Healy, 2. James Tracy, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Ross Molony, 5. Mike McCarthy, 6. Rhys Ruddock, 7. Dan Leavy, 8. Jack Conan.
Replacements: 16. Richardt Strauss, 17. Peter Dooley, 18. Michael Bent, 19. Ian Nagle, 20. Dominic Ryan, 21. Charlie Rock, 22. Noel Reid, 23. Tom Daly.
Referee, Nigel Owens, WRU.

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