Leinster were stronger for throughout the game, despite Munster’s better kicking and dominance in the scrum.
Scoring in the last minute gives the scoreboard a gloss – it finished 24-9 to the home side – but it was based on a long phase of pressure. There was a sense of inevitability, as if we were watching a strong dam, with water building up behind it until it finally burst.
Ever since Johnny Sexton came on the urgency level seemed to go up a gear. Leinster are united in saying that he wasn’t dropped, just rested. They also said that the decision was made in consultation with him. But anybody reading his body language on Saturday would find that hard to believe.
Even his warm up seemed laser focused, full of intent, and he took extra moments when the team were in the dressing room, both before kick off and at half-time, to try a few extra practice kicks from hand.
The switch with Ross Byrne, who had a good if not great game, was seamless. The two players are interchangeable, I feel. But Johnny seemed to add an extra cutting edge to the attack, his presence seemed to put Munster on edge. There was more scrambling to defend whenever the ball got out to the backs.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Sexton will start in the final if fully fit. The decision to play him on the bench may have been all about getting his mental state right. I think it has worked.
Glasgow beat us in the RDS a few weeks ago. Admittedly, it was a weakened side but losing on home turf hurts. The fans feel it but the players will be stung more deeply. We have this chance to repay the favour.
Back to last Saturday’s game, we saw two fine tries. Sean Cronin scored first with a move that any back three would have been proud of but was set up and scored by the front row.
An overlap appeared out wide on the right. Healy took the ball up to contact. Furlong was alongside him, but dropped back a step to take a pass. His pass to Cronin set the hooker free, but he still had some work to do to go round the scrambling Munster defence.
One for the Leinster front row, who had a tough day at the office, getting penalised again and again at scrum time.
The score came at a good time for Leinster, who had begun to open a small gap on the scoreboard with a few penalties. Munster’s discipline was poor throughout the game with the penalty count 7-13 in Leinster’s favour. The home crowd certainly believed that the officials missed a number of calls but there’s nothing new about that.
The game was slipping away from Munster, however. And they knew it. The only means of gaining territory was penalties at the scrum and superior tactical kicking.
Both Ross Byrne and Luke McGrath had an indifferent day kicking from hand. Luke’s box kicks were a combination of not high enough and too far forward to give the chasers time to get under them. Ross’s kicking was tentative and not as effective as usual. When replacement scrum half Nick Kennedy came on his box kick, with much longer hang time, had an immediate, positive effect.
The game ended with a camp out in the Munster half. They defended brilliantly, but as the clock ticked into the last few minutes, there was nothing much they could do.
The home fans sensed victory; and perhaps as the clock went red Munster took their eye of James Lowe. Just for an instant, but it was enough to squeeze in at the corner.
So another final to look forward to against a tough team playing, if not in their home patch, then not too far away. Home city advantage can mean everything.
Leinster need to learn from the mistakes at the weekend. If we kick as poorly as we did then we are in danger of losing. Hogg and co have pace and not a little skill and will relish any loose ball we send into the back three.
I expect Rob Kearney will return, assuming he regains fitness. Larmour looked good at full back, but still made one or two errors that you would not expect from his more experienced colleague.
Sean O’Brien should be fit again also. This will be his Leinster swan song as a player.
It’s hard to sum up the year. Disappointing is probably the best way to describe things, showing perhaps that we have again become used to winning easily.
It will all change next season. Most of the Leinster front line team will not play for their club again until November. It will be all about the world cup preparations and games from when they return after the Summer.
A lot to look forward too, but there is still one game left to go. The Pro 14 title is not as illustrious as the European crown, but winning the domestic competition should somehow feel like a solid return on the year.
We play Scotland in the first World Cup pool game in September. Not a few Glasgow and Leinster players will feature that day. What better way to mentally prepare for that encounter than to beat their best club side, and do so convincingly, on their own soil.