Leinster put boot into Munster
March 31, 2012
Jonny Sexton landed four penalties for Leinster
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Leinster kicked on at the summit of the RaboDirect PRO12 with a scrappy 18-9 derby victory over Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday night.
Leinster found an extra gear in the final quarter to stretch clear and give themselves a boost ahead of next week's Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
Ronan O'Gara drew Munster level in the 54th minute, but Leinster secured the provincial bragging rights and four more points with a superior finish.
Jonathan Sexton and Fergus McFadden kicked penalties and Ian Madigan, another of Leinster's talented reserves, landed a fine drop goal to seal only the province's second win at Thomond Park since 1995.
A series of unsettled scrums and unforced errors made for a scrappy first 40 minutes dominated by referee Nigel Owens' whistle and Sexton's right boot, with Leinster establishing a 9-3 interval lead.
Owens sin-binned props Marcus Horan and Mike Ross early in the second period and Munster reacted best with O'Gara getting the home side back on terms. However, with Joe Schmidt unloading an experienced bench, Leinster exerted enough control in the closing stages with Man-of-the-Match Isa Nacewa the leading attacking threat.
This top of the table clash got off to a typically breathless start with two turnovers in the opening minute and an early try-scoring opportunity for Rob Kearney, who knocked the ball over the try-line as he tried to gather Sexton's well-weighted kick.
The visitors enjoyed the best of the early territory and Sexton kicked them ahead with a long-range penalty in the 10th minute. It took over 20 minutes for the scrum to settle with Ireland internationals Horan and Ross going down together on a number of occasions. A decision against the latter went unpunished when O'Gara hit the left-hand upright.
A bout of loose kicking did little for the game as a spectacle, and while there was a distinct lack of continuity the contest at the breakdown was as ferocious as ever. Munster got on the front foot after the welcome sight of a clean scrum. Sean Cronin infringed at a ruck in the Leinster 22 and O'Gara duly punished him with the levelling penalty from the right.
Munster were guilty of going off their feet at ruck time on the restart, allowing Sexton to swiftly restore Leinster's three-point advantage. Leinster began to put more phases together in attack as half-time approached, with Gordon D'Arcy, on his 200th appearance, and Kevin McLaughlin carrying well.
A third penalty success for Sexton, after Horan dropped a scrum, put six points between the sides at the break. Both Horan and Ross saw yellow three minutes into the second half as referee Owens lost his patience with the pair.
The next scrum saw Heinke van der Merwe infringe and O'Gara made no mistake with his kick from 40 metres out. Munster gained some much-needed momentum in the third quarter with replacement Wian du Preez steadying the scrum.
O'Gara missed his next shot at the posts, but was back on target in the 54th minute to level the game after Brad Thorn was penalised for a high tackle. By the hour mark, Leinster had issued a strong response with Nacewa and Sexton threatening from purposeful attacks. The latter then kicked his final penalty to make it 12-9 before being replaced by Madigan.
Leinster's lead may have been a narrow one but there was a better flow to their game at this stage, and Nacewa was soon sprung through a gap from a lineout forcing Munster to scramble back.
A BJ Botha scrum infringement led to McFadden, Sexton's place-kicking replacement, landing a 70th-minute penalty for 15-9 and the tide was turning blue.
Leinster's experienced bench was a key factor as they ground out the result. A short burst from Cian Healy led to fellow replacement Madigan sending over a snap drop goal and the fast-breaking McFadden was a pass away from creating a late try.
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