Munster’s victory over Leinster was deserved and there is no arguing with that. It was a game of huge anticipation and the tension seemed to get to the players for long periods in the first half. Fumbles and turnovers were the order of the day. The most accurate execution was the Garryowen, which both teams availed of very effectively.
Nobody could complain about the intensity and physicality, which was right up there with Heineken Cup. But neither team played with a tempo and composure that they had planned to.
Munster did threaten to open up Leinster a number of times, when they went wide, but they were smart enough to have done the hard yards before going wide. At the same time there were times when they did go wide without earning the right and Leinster turned them over, as predicted.
The scrum was messy all night and confusion seemed to reign as to what the referee wanted from both front rows. When the scrum did stay up Leinster had the edge and put huge pressure on Munster. It wasn’t until Leinster made their front-row substitutions in the 2nd half that Munster gained control in the scrum.
Leinster will be hugely disappointed, as they didn’t really cause Munster any problems when they attacked. Muster must be credited for defending brilliantly for long periods, bringing huge physical intensity and keeping their discipline. It is a huge achievement to keep a team of Leinster’s attacking prowess from crossing the whitewash for eighty minutes. Ultimately that was the winning of the game.
Munster’s try came from a well executed cross-kick when Ian Madigan was in the sin bin. His yellow card, for coming in the side of a ruck on his goal line, on the face of it looked like a moment of madness. But when you look closely, James Coughlan, who was protecting the ball at the back of the ruck, broke his bind and played the ball. Technically Madigan was entitled to go and tackle him. But Coughlan rebound to the ruck before Madigan arrived and it looked like he came in from the side.
Ian Madigan’s mistake was expecting the referee would see Coughlan had broken his bind. In a crucial situation he was naïve and should not have taken the risk that the referee was on the same page as him. He gambled and lost, and so did Leinster.
Down to fourteen men Leinster’s defence that close to the goal line was always going to be too narrow to defend a good cross kick and that’s exactly what Ian Keatley delivered to Keith Earls.
As the game wore on Munster did bring trouble on themselves by at times kicking aimlessly. With the clock running down Leinster were always going to run back and with the quality of broken-field runners they have, Munster were asking for trouble. Also, on a number of occasions when Munster were in strong attacking positions, unlike the 1st half, they went wide without collapsing the Leineter defence. The result was they turned over the ball.
The most crucial turnover was in a wide ruck that released Lote Tuqiri, with Thomond Park open in front of him. Had he not pulled his hamstring he would probably have scored, which would have been a huge sucker punch for Munster. Had he scored, the clock would have been against Munster and it would have been a long way back for them.
Other than one other break in the 2nd half and the run where he pulled his hamstring, Tuqiri didn’t have any real impact on the game. He is a strong ball carrier but not an outside centre. Also, he had to defend in the #13 channel, which is alien territory for him. It may explain why Munster found some space on a number of occasions in those wide channels.
To this end Leinster missed Brian O’Driscoll. He has been the difference between the sides in both of last season’s fixtures and I think he could have been the difference again last night. Defensively he would have stabilised Leinster a lot more and would have been a positive influence on Ian Madigan, who at times could have done with a few words of wisdom to steady his game.
In the battle of the fly-halves, on the night, Ian Keatley won. No harm for him with Joe Schmidt looking on. Madigan hadn’t his best game but he is still a class act and he will bounce back.
Overall, it was a hugely physical and intense game, but the intensity seemed to dominate at the expense of accuracy. It was a lot scrappier than both teams would have liked. Heading into the Heineken next weekend both teams know they have work to do.
Munster prevailed because they defended so well and took their full advantage of the yellow card. As for Leinster they were missing the “Drico Factor”.