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Wednesday 22 March 2017

Blues pay price in the Park

Munster 29 Leinster 17

Simon Zebo of Munster is tackled by Isa Nacewa of Leinster during the Guinness PRO12 match at Thomond Park
Simon Zebo of Munster is tackled by Isa Nacewa of Leinster during the Guinness PRO12 match at Thomond Park
Zane Kirchner scores Leinster’s try despite the tackle of CJ Stander of Munster during the Guinness PRO12 match at Thomond Park. Photo: Sportsfile

Mean and menacing Munster moved five points clear at the head of the PRO12 League in Thomond Park last night.

Munster went straight into overdrive in order to overturn their unwanted series of three consecutive losses to their guests.

The palm of Zane Kirchner's hand prevented a gilt-edged opportunity for Darren Sweetnam.

The direct carries came and Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong were to the forefront in meeting them head-on.

Then, Dan Leavy was twice involved in stemming the tide before Ross Byrne angled a lovely kick inside the 22.

Leinster second row Ross Molony soared to nick a lineout to no avail.

CJ Stander stood in the gap to uncharacteristically clear the ball with his boot.

A period of kicking concluded with Byrne's neat half-break foiled by a forward pass to Kirchner.

Leinster were causing problems on the fringes as Jamison Gibson-Park looked to Jack Conan and Molony to offer for work.

Munster number eight Stander was spotted pushing his forearm into Barry Daly for a penalty.

Sizzling

It was enough for territory and Leinster moved the ball from a scrum.

Conan and Gibson-Park linked and Byrne's slick pass was the key to a sizzling line from Kirchner which bamboozled Ronan O'Mahony.

The Springbok flew to the line, despite the best effort of Stander, for Nacewa to make it 7-0 in the 19th minute.

Munster's response was clever Tommy O'Donnell taking in Tyler Bleyendaal's chip and O'Donnell turning up at the next ruck to do enough to claim a penalty.

The lineout-into-maul came close and Conor Murray's fizzing ball enabled Simon Zebo to twist away from Gibson-Park and Daly for a superb try which Bleyendaal converted from the touchline in the 24th minute.

A body-shaking hit from Nacewa turned defence into attack, Daly's grubber applying pressure.

A neck roll from Jean Kleyn on Furlong prompted the lead penalty from Nacewa in the 28th minute.

A textbook turnover by Leavy was countered by the home side at a ruck.

Munster owned the ball until inside centre Rory Scannell's kick was calmed by Daly. Loose-head Cian Healy committed a second offence to the annoyance of referee Nigel Owens to hand Munster the initiative.

Conor Murray was the orchestrator of a sustained attack which culminated with Bleyendaal's cut out pass for wing Ronan O'Mahony to make the corner.

In the build-up, Kirchner was lucky to avoid a yellow card for a tackle on Sweetnam, which caused the latter's removal for Andrew Conway.

Bleyendaal's second touchline conversion made it 14-10 at the interval.

The increasingly influential Bleyendaal hoisted a ball which Conway took over the head of Nacewa.

The muscular work of Mike McCarthy and Rhys Ruddock was good for consecutive turnovers.

When Munster got into position, they stayed patient enough to draw two penalty advantages which Murray eventually decided to turn into a contest in the air. Flanker O'Donnell got the better of Daly on the right to clutch tight the kick for a third try.

It came as no surprise to see Bleyendaal's wide out conversion make the posts for 21-10 in the 52nd minute.

Out of nowhere, Leinster activated their offloading game to move sweetly. They looked to be in clover until Daly's kick went out of play.

Crashed over

Munster sought the corner instead of the posts from a penalty and Stander crashed over for the bonus-point and 26-10 in the 57th minute.

The next sign of domination came from a powerful scrum for Zebo to gain ground with a grubber. When Rhys Ruddock got into Murray's line of vision, Bleyendaal struck for three more points.

This signalled a raft of front row replacements for Leinster and the introduction of Francis Saili for the first time this season.

Leinster finally found the front-foot consistently for the first time in the second-half, Saili forcing a penalty at the breakdown. It was frenetic and loose.

Rhys Marshall probed the blindside. Robbie Henshaw twice stepped in to problem solve. Zebo, Saili and Conway almost cracked the defence again.

O'Mahony was on the verge of their fifth try when Conan poached a penalty on his own line.

The difference was encapsulated in the way Leinster moved upfield with pretty patterns only for Duncan Williams to rip the ball away.

From there, Zebo's long, low ball forward forced O'Loughlin into an emergency clearance. It was ground gained once again for Munster.

Leinster never stopped working. They came down the right through O'Loughlin, his kick collected by Kirchner.

They were in prime position and replacement Richardt Strauss broke away from a maul to make the line for Nacewa's extras to narrow the difference in the 77th minute in what was scant consolation.

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