Leinster battle past Munster to reach Pro14 Final
PRO14 REPORT: Leinster extended their winning streak to 24 games and moved one step closer to regaining their Pro14 crown with a bruising 13-3 victory over Munster at the Aviva Stadium.
The reigning champions produced a typically gritty display in difficult conditions to maintain their unbeaten campaign, with Ronan Kelleher’s first-half try proving decisive.
Johnny Sexton used all his experience to pull the strings for the hosts, as well as adding two penalties and a conversion, to secure Leinster’s ninth Final appearance in 11 years.
Munster were left to rue two missed Hanrahan penalties after he gave the visitors an early lead as the Red Army were knocked out at the semifinal stage by Leinster for a third year in a row.
Munster started the game strongly as they piled the early pressure on Leinster, with CJ Stander and Jack O’Donoghue forcing Jordan Larmour to give the visitors a penalty.
JJ Hanrahan, the Pro14 Golden Boot winner for the 2019/20 campaign, made no mistake with his first effort at goal as the Red Army landed the opening blow.
A mistake from O’Donoghue presented a chance for Johnny Sexton to respond on 10 minutes but his long-range kick from halfway drifted narrowly wide of the posts.
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— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) September 4, 2020
It was not long before Sexton was back in the thick of the action though and after a huge tackle on Springbok Damian De Allende, he played a key role in the game’s opening try.
With the rain making the high ball treacherous, Sexton launched a kick downfield which Keith Earls spilled forward, gifting Leinster scrum ball 10 metres out.
Another penalty from the scrum enabled Leinster to opt for the line-out and from there the blue wave proved too much for the Munster defence as Kelleher dotted the ball down.
Sexton then twisted the knife further by adding the extras before kicking a straightforward penalty on the cusp of half-time, giving Leinster a 10-3 advantage at the break.
There was little to choose between the two side at the start of the second half before Hanrahan missed a gold opportunity to cut the deficit from the tee on the hour mark.
The pendulum continued to swing back and forth but it was Munster who once again had an opportunity to strike, only for Hanrahan to miss another penalty effort from 30 metres.
But there was no such error from Sexton, who extended Leinster’s lead to ten points with his own three-pointer in his last action of the game before being replaced by Ross Byrne.
Munster threw their all at the Leinster defence in the closing stages but Leo Cullen’s side were absolutely ruthless and saw out the remaining minutes to secure their Final spot once again.
Pens: Sexton 2
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Will Connors, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Rory O’Loughlin.
Munster: 15 Shane Daly, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Keith Earls, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Jack O’Donoghue, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 James Cronin, 18 John Ryan, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Chris Cloete, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Mike Haley.
Referee: Andrew Brace
Assistant referees: George Clancy, Sean Gallagher
TMO: Brian MacNeice