Munster 28 Leinster 13: Three talking points as Munster go top of the PRO12
Anthony Foley's men impress in their St Stephen's Day win to do the double over their interpro rivals for the first time since 2009
Keatley wins Irish out-half battle
With Ireland’s 10 jersey up for grabs for the opening match of their Six Nations title defence in February, this match gave Leinster’s Ian Madigan and Munster’s Ian Keatley the chance to stake their claim. Madigan has been in decent form this season, at inside centre, while Keatley has had been rotated with JJ Hanrahan and has struggled with his place kicking, but it was the Dublin-born Munster man who came out on top. Neither player was perfect off the tee: Keatley missed a conversion, while Madigan hooked a first-half penalty but, save for a few strong runs, Madigan wasn’t able to have much impact. Keatley’s kicking from hand was much more effective in giving Munster useful territory to go through the phases, and they did that with another masterclass of pick and gos, while their forwards were magnificent in clearing rucks with a ferocity that they are renowned for. Keatley was rarely troubled under the high balls put up by Leinster, his passing was solid, and had a role in sending Andrew Conway away for Munster’s second of three tries. Keatley is probably just ahead of Madigan in the battle to stand in for the injured Johnny Sexton, but Ulster’s Paddy Jackson remains the most likely choice.
Simple game plan, hard to stop
Munster went into the match on the back of three straight defeats to Clermont Auvergne in Europe (twice) and Glasgow Warriors in the PRO12. Questions were again asked of their ability to compete at the very top this season, but the response was an emphatic victory over their bitter rivals. The traditional Munster strength up front was as strong as ever at the breakdown as they played on the gain line, content to inch their way forward rather than seek a miracle pass. Not bad for a side missing Peter O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell, Simon Zebo and Conor Murray, four of their more influential players, all of whom were rested under the national player management programme. Leinster, too, had players rested after the Ireland training camp just before Christmas, but Munster’s youngsters stepped up at Thomond Park with notable contributions from replacement forwards Paddy Butler and Dave O’Callaghan, the latter getting the third try, while wing Ronan O’Mahony showed promise with some strong running and support play and experienced locks Donncha O’Callaghan and Billy Holland were far more influential than their counterparts. Munster’s multi-phase play was sublime at times and rarely appeared to drop off, even when the win seemed assured with just five minutes of the second half played.
Leinster lack intensity, creativity
With time running out in the second half, the lack of action from Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor to ring the changes was a strange decision. All too often, the Leinster backs looked short of ideas going forward and seemed content to kick for territory. The kick-chase wasn’t great, and they were nowhere near as effective at the breakdown as Munster. Tackling and challenges dropped off after the opening 30 minutes and the reigning champions never looked like a side capable of winning. It took until 64 minutes before the arrival of Jimmy Gopperth and Luke McGrath at half-back with Madigan, Gordon D’Arcy and Luke Fitzgerald all moving outside, perhaps necessitated by the harsh yellow card of wing Darragh Fanning, but it should have happened earlier. Fanning had a poor defensive game and was regularly exposed by Keatley’s intelligent kicking. It wasn’t just the backs that were off-colour, with the forwards regularly outdone by Munster’s superior work ethic. Gopperth’s introduction gave Leinster some extra zip late in the game as Shane Jennings grabbed a consolation try, but it was too little, too late. For the second time this season, Leinster were demolished by their interpro rivals.