Category: Archive

Munster control territory, win battle of champs vs. Leinster

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Last Sunday’s meeting of the reigning European champions and the reigning Celtic League champions at the RDS in Dublin was no exception. If Lansdowne Road wasn’t a building site at present, the attendance would easily have been double the 18,500 which witnessed yet another compelling contest.
While the game’s law makers are all hot under the collar about the need for entertainment and high-scoring encounters, this one only managed to produce six points by the 70th minute, yet the intensity-quotient was so high, and the balance so delicate, that no one was thinking about leaving the ground before the end.
If there was an expected ferocity to the exchanges, things never got out of hand as they had in previous meeting between the two provinces, and in the end, it was Munster who emphasized their impressive start to the season with a strong finish that gave them a fourth Celtic League victory out of four.
Ronan O’Gara’s two penalties had given them some breathing space, and in truth, the winners should probably have been further in front such was their territorial supremacy before they eventually drove a stake through Leinster’s heart with a couple of late tries from new South African number eight, Justin Melck, and the former New Zealand wing, Doug Howlett.
The architect of the first was the highly promising full-back 20-year-old full back, Keith Earls, who after surging into Leinster’s half produced a perfect pass for Melck who intelligently cut through the cover, and then Howlett showed his pace and skill to gather O’Gara’s kick for the match-winner between the posts.
After losing twice to their great rivals last year, there was a touch of redemption for Munster and their newly-installed head coach, Tony McGahan. “It was the most satisfying result of the season so far, definitely. It was our biggest test to date, and to come up here and to get the win is never easy,” he said. “We knew Leinster had attacking weapons all across the field, but I thought our defense was excellent.”
If Munster surprisingly struggled to control their own line-outs, they still had a stranglehold on the game especially during the second half. Paul O’Connell was back to his very best, and both centers, Lifemi Mafi and Rua Tipoki, were outstanding. Meanwhile, O’Gara gave his opposite number, Jonathan Sexton, currently Ireland’s young pretender at out-half, a lesson in how to control territory.
While he was the beneficiary of much better possession than Sexton, time and time again O’Gara pinned Leinster back with his trademark tactical kicks, and if Brian O’Driscoll and Felipe Contepomi defended well for the losers, they never had enough ball to pose a serious threat.
Leinster’s challenge wasn’t helped by three untypical early penalty misses by Contepomi, and although their new recruits, Rocky Elsom of Australia and South African World Cup winner, CJ van der Linde, had their moments, they will understandably need a few more games before finding their feet.
“We didn’t play well enough, we turned over far too much ball and if you do that against a quality team like Munster, you will lose,” said Leinster coach, Michael Cheika. “I’m not worried. I’m disappointed. Munster lost to us at home and away last season and they are the European champions. We don’t need any sweeping statements or panic at this stage.”
Munster will attempt to make it five out of five when they take on Glasgow at the newly revamped Thomond Park this weekend, while Leinster travel to Galway to meet Connacht who are at a low ebb following a humiliating 58-0 defeat by Cardiff.
There was also some bad news for Ulster coach, Matt Williams, as his side also failed to register a score against Welsh opposition. Ulster stay rooted to the bottom of the Celtic League table after losing 43-0 to the Ospreys last Saturday. “The scoreline was disappointing, but no one expected us to win,” said Williams cryptically.

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