Leinster battle past Munster for final berth
May 15, 2010
Man of the match Jamie Heaslip stretches the Munster defence at the RDS
© Getty Images
Leinster edged out Munster 16-6 at the RDS in Dublin to book a Magners League Grand Final showdown with the Ospreys.
A second half try from fullback Rob Kearney and three penalties and a conversion from the boot of returning fly-half Jonathan Sexton proved enough to end their Irish rivals hopes of defending the Celtic crown. A penalty from fly-half Ronan O'Gara ensured Munster went into the break on level terms but a drop goal early in the second half would be their only other score as they were continually frustrated by a superb defensive display from the hosts with No.8 Jamie Heaslip once again the star performer.
Leinster were handed the first scoring opportunity in a bruising opening but Sexton, making his first appearance since breaking his jaw in his side's Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Clermont in early April, could only pull his long-range kick wide of the posts after Munster scrum-half Tomas O'Leary had been penalised after being caught in possession.
Munster responded with a good spell of pressure but they were frustrated by a resolute Leinster defence who appeared comfortable at scrum time. But the home side's hopes were dealt a blow after just 13 minutes when wing Shane Horgan was sin-binned after taking out Munster flanker Niall Ronan in the air as the pair chased kick.
Leinster responded to the setback by driving into the Munster 22 with skipper Brian O'Driscoll leading by example and they drew a penalty that Sexton landed to give his side the lead. Munster rallied and took the game deep into Leinster territory where O'Gara found No.8 Nick Williams who slipped as he closed in on the line and was subsequently swamped by blue shirts.
Munster were back on level terms just short of the half hour thanks to the boot of O'Gara but a superb take and jinking run from Leinster fullback Rob Kearney saw the momentum immediately wing back in the hosts' favour. Strong runs from prop Stan Wright and Horgan then had the crowd on their feet but it was Leinster's turn to find the door shut in their face by a well-regimented defence.
O'Gara offered a signal of intent at the start of the second half with a long range drop goal to put his side ahead for the first time in the game but their lead was short lived with Sexton and centre Gordon D'Arcy combining well to carve the Munster defence open before drawing Earls and feeding Kearney who dotted down in the corner for the try. Sexton's excellent conversion cemented his side's lead and reignited the home crowd's fervour.
Tempers boiled over moments later and when the dust settled the original penalty against Leinster's replacement prop CJ van der Linde was reversed due to Munster prop Marcus Horan's reaction to his front row rival's indiscretion. Sexton stepped up to slot his second penalty to heap woe on a Munster side feeling hard done by. Sparked by that perceived injustice Munster were soon stretching the Leinster defence and a penalty offered O'Gara the chance to close the gap but he pulled his kick horribly wide of the posts.
Leinster No.8 Jamie Heaslip then pounced on a loose ball before surging downfield where only a desperate tackle from Earls brought him down. But they were soon on the front foot again with Van der Linde powering into the 22 where the ball was recycled for fellow prop Cian Healey who was flattened by a high tackle from O'Leary just short of the line. Referee Nigel Owens referred the play to the TMO who ruled that it was a penalty but that the tackle did not prevent a try. With boos ringing around the stadium, Sexton stepped up to slot the kick that gave his side a ten point lead.
O'Gara, fresh from being flattened by a rampaging Heaslip, looked to reduce the arrears from long range midway through the half but saw his kick fall short. His hard-working forwards forced another penalty soon after with this time O'Gara opting to kick for the corner but again they came up short again with Heaslip serving as a wrecking ball to their best intentions. With the clock now working against them, Munster pressed forward once more but this time their own handling let them down.
The two sides continued to batter each other as the game drew to a close but the miserly Leinster defence ensured it was the home side that progressed to the final in a fortnight's time with Ospreys now facing a daunting trip to the Irish capital.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin
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