Defending champions Leinster put in a clinical display of finals rugby to beat rivals Munster 13-3 in the first Pro14 semi-final in Dublin on Friday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The win at the Aviva stadium sees the two-time defending champions, on the hunt for their third consecutive Pro rugby title, through to their third final in a row.
Saturday’s second semi-final sees Edinburgh host Ulster in a match which will feature a host of South Africans, including Marcell Coetzee, Duhan van der Merwe and Pierre Schoeman.
While Leinster weren’t at their best, they managed an intense contest very well, weathering the early storm from the Munster attack and taking their own chances when it really counted. The home side laid a decisive blow in the late stages of the first half when hooker Ronan Kelleher buried over from a driving maul.
Johann van Graan’s Munster side will be kicking themselves for spurring the number of chances that they did. An early bit of pressure saw Munster earn two set-pieces to strike from in the opening 20 minutes, while flyhalf JJ Hanrahan missed two kickable penalties in the second half.
That being said, credit has to be given to Leinster for the way they defended and contained the threat of Damian de Allende and CJ Stander in particular.
One of the ultimate difference makers was Johnny Sexton. Leinster’s captain truly led from the front, putting in a couple of brave tackles on De Allende – enforcing one turnover from the Bok centre – and keeping the Munster back three on their toes with a few well-judged kicks. When he left the field in the 67th minute, Sexton had slotted three of his four kicks to give his side a 13-3 lead going into the closing stages of the match.
Munster threw everything at Leinster in the final 10 minutes, but the defending champions stayed resolute, even after losing substitute Josh van der Flier to a yellow card for a cynical infringement.
Leinster – Tries: Ronan Kelleher. Conversions: Johnny Sexton. Penalties: Sexton (2)
Munster – Penalty: JJ Hanrahan
Leinster – 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Will Connors, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 Scott Fardy. 4 Devin Toner, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Sean 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 (c), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Subs: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 James Cronin, 18 John Ryan, 19 Gavin Coombes 20 Chris Cloete, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Fineen Wycherley.
Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images