Leinster put in an abrasive and defensively robust performance in the PRO14 final to beat Johann van Graan’s Munster 16-6 in Dublin.
In trying conditions at the RDS Arena, Leinster overcame a spirited Munster side – coached by former Springbok assistant coach Van Graan – to extend their current reign as PRO14 champions to four seasons.
Matchflow: Whipping wind made it difficult for both sides from the offset, but it was the men from Dublin who settled better in the early moments. After a sloppy and nervy start by Munster they conceded three points early. Leinster looked fluent in the opening exchanges and were unfortunate not to cross the tryline.
As the first half drew on, Jean Kleyn clawed Munster back into proceedings with a big hit that led to a breakdown infringement and an eventual penalty. Munster, though, fought back with another penalty to draw level at 6-6 by half time. Although Leinster had the ascendency, Munster showed good fight to stay in the contest.
Leinster continued the onslaught in the second stanza and were held up over the line for a second time in the 46th minute. They wouldn’t be denied for long, though, and scored a minute later through a Jack Conan pick-and-go to wrest away the ascendency.
Leinster’s defence became almost uncrackable, giving the Munster attack no purchase. The men in blue used their defensive platform to control the game and eventually won another penalty late into the second half off the boot of Ross Byrne to go 10 points in front.
Key player: Though a special mention should go to Springbok centre Damian de Allende, who was in typically abrasive form for Munster, ultimately it was his opposite man, Robbie Henshaw, who came away with the accolades. Henshaw showed all the class that made him a standout in this year’s Six Nations and his dynamic ball-carrying and defensive prowess were key components in Leinster’s eventual success.
Key moment: Though Leinster were in control for the vast majority of the game, they may be concerned by talisman Johnny Sexton’s exit mid-way through the second half. The Ireland pivot will no doubt have designs upon the British & Irish Lions No 10 jersey and Irish fans will be waiting with bated breath to find out whether his injury is serious or not.