United Rugby Championship: Five takeaways from Leinster v Munster as the road trip continues for Graham Rowntree’s men

Munster celebrate URC semi-final win Credit: Alamy
Munster celebrate URC semi-final win Credit: Alamy

Following the 16-15 victory for Munster over Leinster in Dublin on Saturday, here’s our five takeaways from the United Rugby Championship (URC) semi-final.

Game for the ages

So often, the cliche of ‘one for the purists’ is used when tries are scarce in matches nowadays, but this was not one of them; this was a game for all, and it had it all.

Yes, Leinster rested a host of frontline players, and Munster were missing others through injury, but that mattered little when the two sides walked onto the pitch. This was a classic Irish derby between two teams desperate to not only win the match but not let their opponent win it either.

It took 38 minutes for the first try to be scored, and a moment of magic produced it, with Robbie Henshaw producing a fantastic offload to Jason Jenkins, who juggled before securing possession and racing away to the try-line.

Before that, Leinster had a try chalked off and had been denied by some heroic Munster defence. Every breakdown was a furious battle, and tempers boiled over on more than one occasion. The breakdown battle extended to the set-pieces where there were few instances that a freebie was given, but when they were, the next phase was yet another gruelling clash.

Every score resulted in a lead change, with Jack Crowley landing the final blow, but even then, Leinster looked to have one more go at their rivals, were overzealous and were offside from the kick-off. From the resulting scrum, they threw everything they had to try to win a penalty and did the same at the next breakdown, as this match was contested for from minute one to 80.

Jack Crowley shows he’s big time

The difference between a good fly-half and great fly-half is their ability to guide their team to victories and produce match-winning moments, especially against all odds. The likes of Ronan O’Gara, Jonny Wilkinson, Dan Carter and Beauden Barrett all had this trait in spades and at a young age.

On Saturday, we got a glimpse into what kind of player Crowley can be in the years to come as he came up with the goods in the clutch for his side.

With Johnny Sexton hanging up his boots after the Rugby World Cup, speculation on who will be next to fill the Ireland number 10 jumper has been rife. Crowley threw down a massive marker in the clash, with Ross Byrne and Sam Prendergast dominating the limelight recently.

It wasn’t just his magnificent drop goal to win the semi-final but how he seamlessly shifted focus from inside centre to fly-half and marshalled his troops around the pitch in a crunch fixture against their arch-rivals in a season-defining clash.

The Munster coaching staff backed him earlier in the season when they allowed Ben Healy to explore his options, and Crowley repaid them by claiming the starting role ahead of Joey Carbery and paid further dividends with his performance today.

Performing under pressure, with the game on the line and doing it so calmly, is further proof that Crowley is a big time player and one that can take this Munster, and possibly Ireland, team very far.

Leinster team selection backfires

Many were surprised by Leo Cullen’s decision to keep his big-name stars on ice for another week ahead of the Champions Cup final against La Rochelle.

The recent victory over the Sharks saw a handful of players rested but on Friday at midday there was shock when the likes of Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Hugo Keenan and more were missing from the squad, with Cullen highlighting singular focus on each crucial game as being his thinking.

We understand that line and if Leinster win the Champions Cup next weekend with a fresh team firing on all cylinders then victory will taste sweet, but perhaps it was the scale of absences that might have upset the team’s supporters most. Would having a few of their top players on the bench led to a different result?

An outstanding Munster performance

The above is no slight on Munster’s win and what a win it was. To a man the visitors to Dublin were brilliant as their incredible fitness, brutality, relentlessness and confidence was clear to see on Saturday. They attacked at will and it was only Leinster’s superb defence that kept them at bay for long spells of the game.

Graham Rowntree has said on many an occasion this season that they back their fitness against anyone and many an opposing team would have struggled to keep pace with his team today. It’s a credit to Leinster they matched them for the full 80 minutes but Munster came out on top thanks to that moment of quality from Crowley.

While handling errors were all too frequent at times, this Munster performance was almost Test match like in its intensity and they should take plenty from it.

Improvements have been staggering

Indeed, this showing at the Aviva Stadium has been a long journey from pre-season struggles and early season defeats that saw Munster sit in a precarious spot. Losses to Gloucester and London Irish in friendly games were followed by URC negatives to Cardiff, Dragons and Connacht in three of their opening four matches.

To their credit they stuck to their guns and training field work started to bear fruit from November and they have not looked back, finishing in fifth position before that excellent win at Glasgow Warriors last week and today’s result.

Their game is a fascinating blend of ferocious and unyielding defence – the best in the URC this season – and an attack that keeps the ball in play as much as possible and stresses opponents with offloads, high pace and enterprising decisions.

From where they’ve come, it’s an incredible story how Munster have reached the final and it feels like we’re only seeing the start of something with this side.

Munster’s epic road trip continues

One hopes Munster’s players and coaching staff haven’t had any urgent post through their letter boxes as it’s been a lengthy period of time away from home for the team. Since April they have faced the Sharks, Stormers, Sharks, Glasgow Warriors and Leinster all away, but there has been anything but troubles on the road as they’ve won three, drawn one and lost just once. It’s quite a staggering series of results from Munster, especially at the business end of two competitions.

Their prize for winning against Leinster in Dublin? Of course, it’s back on the plane to South Africa for a winner-takes-all clash with the Stormers, who will no doubt be smarting after Munster ended their unbeaten home streak last month.

The Capetonians are clearly happy about having home field advantage on May 27, but maybe this reaction to the result has perhaps done Rowntree’s teamtalk for him? Make of this what you will but it should be an epic clash at DHL Stadium.

Stormers squad reaction after the 2nd URC semi final
by u/Vandrg in rugbyunion

READ MORE: United Rugby Championship: Munster seal famous win over Leinster as trip to Stormers awaits

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