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Try, try again: Leinster top Munster

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Mark Jones

Scoreline:

Leinster 24

Munster 20

DUBLIN — Rugby’s Celtic League may not be the most high profile of competitions, but it may well prove to be Leinster’s springboard to greater achievements. Saturday’s victory over archrivals Munster in a hotly contested final at Lansdowne Road has made Leinster one of the favorites to win the European Cup next year.

Confined as it is to teams from Ireland, Wales and Scotland, the Celtic League has to play second fiddle to the more prestigious European Cup, yet as a barometer of form, it has moved Leinster up into the elite of Europe’s provincial and club sides.

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So not just good for Leinster, who, despite being reduced to 14 men during the first half, were able to kill off Munster with two brilliant tries in the closing stages, but good also for Ireland’s reputation. Nearly 30,000 spectators voted with their feet to watch the country’s two best teams battle it out, and no one, not even the most partisan of Munster supporters, went away dissatisfied.

This was a highly charged game, with 11 of the current Ireland lineup on view. Several minor scores were settled as well.

After only 25 minutes, Eric Miller stupidly kicked out at Anthony Foley right in front of the referee, who had no choice but to send the Leinster flanker off.

In the face of some typically aggressive Munster forward play, Leinster were in deep trouble. With Foley and wing John O’Neill crossing for two first-half tries, Munster were in front by 15-6 just after the changeover, at which stage, only one result looked possible.

Leinster’s Australian coach, Matt Williams, admitted that for the best part of an hour Munster were the better team.

“We were definitely nervous, and that’s the inexperience of never have been in a final,” he said. “Munster are the champions, and we had to step up to the plate. We wanted to prove it against a great team and at halftime we knew that most people were thinking that we weren’t up to it. So we decided to play it our way, and run at them.”

The tactics certainly paid off after two penalties by out-half Nathan Spooner moved Leinster to within 15-12. First, wing Gordon D’Arcy raced over for a try following a superb break by man of the match Shane Horgan, and then Horgan himself followed up Brian O’Driscoll’s kick ahead and won the race for another touchdown with 10 minutes remaining.

In those two moments, all the strong work of Munster’s Mick Galwey, Jim Williams and Rob Henderson was undone. Despite their numerical disadvantage, Leinster were still able to produce enough creativity behind the scrum to breach one of the best defenses in Europe.

Anthony Horgan managed to score Munster’s third try, in injury time, but there was no consolation as coach Declan Kidney and his players were left to contemplate defeats in a European Cup final, a semifinal, and now a Celtic League decider all in the space of two years.

“A lot of people will talk about the failure of not having won a final, but I would look upon it as the achievement of getting there,” Kidney said.

Even without the services of injured internationals Peter Stringer, David Wallace and John Hayes, Munster should have done better, especially after Miller was sent off. They remain a formidable opponent, but right now Ireland has two powerful provincial teams capable of taking on the best in Europe. Leinster have proved their worth.

Leinster: G. Dempsey; D. Hickie, B. O’Driscoll, S. Horgan, G. D’Arcy; N. Spooner, B. O’Meara; R. Corrigan, S. Byrne, P. Wallace, M. O’Kelly, L. Cullen, E. Miller, K. Gleeson, V. Costello. Subs: B. Casey for Cullen, 59 mins.

Munster: D. Crotty; J. O’Neill, J. Kelly, R. Henderson, A. Horgan; R. O’Gara, M. Prendergast; M. Horan, F. Sheahan, P. Clohessy, M. Galwey, P. O’Connell, A. Quinlan, J. Williams, A. Foley. Subs: M. Mullins for Crotty, 64 mins.; J. Holland for Henderson, 58 mins.; M. Cahill for Clohessy, 61 mins.; M. O’Driscoll for O’Connell, C. McMahon for Galwey, both 74 mins.

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