Tale of three penalties as Leinster break Munster hearts again
LEINSTER 13-3 MUNSTER
Cruelly, this closely fought match came down to Leinster's rabid defence and a couple of crucial penalty misses by Munster.
It will hurt. Again, for another season, it will hurt.
Munster get close but Leinster do what they have to in order to get the win. We have seen this game played out plenty of times in recent seasons.
Leinster march on to their third consecutive Guinness PRO14 final and, in the process, they have condemned Munster to another season without a trophy. That Munster had their chances to win it, despite not playing their best, will be of icy cold comfort to them.
They will go on holiday in a couple of days but be back sooner than you know it. The 2020/21 season starts in six weeks' time so this latest semi-final loss will not have too much time to fester. But the coming few days and weeks will be tough. They need to do something to change the script next season.
They brought in two World Cup winners but one [RG Snyman] of them lasted seven minutes before tearing his ACL. The other [Damien De Allende] looked good against Connacht but Leinster shut him down effectively in two successive outings. Johnny Sexton loves playing against the guy. His eyes light up when he is near.
Sexton, ultimately, was the man who kicked the points that made the difference. It sounds simple and staid, at times, but that was where this game was won and lost. The Leinster outhalf missed an early penalty from 50-metres out. However, when it counted and the game was on the line, he slotted over his other chances.
JJ Hanrahan put Munster 3-0 ahead, early on, but that was as good as it got.
The first half was a turgid affair that was punctuated by the frequent whistle of referee Andrew Brace. A short but heavy shower in the minutes before kick-off made the ball slick and handling errors were plentiful.
Ronan Kelleher got over for a try, off a heaving Leinster maul, but there were legitimate questions over it being a double movement from the Leinster hooker. The TMO checked it a few times and the try - Kelleher's ninth in 11 games this season - stood.
Leinster added a penalty, right in front of the posts, just before the break and they led 10-3. That James Lowe had the most metres gained, at only 18, summed up a dicey first half.
The second half was no better. It was just tense, mistake-riddled rugby. You would expect no more from a semi-final between two bitter rivals but the error and penalty counts stacked up and you waited for one player to step up and make the game-winning play. Caelan Doris stepped up with some big plays for Leinster, in the second 40, but scoring chances were slim.
Munster earned their openings back into the game, midway through the half, with two penalties but Hanrahan missed both. He had shipped a blow to the leg, around 45 minutes in, and Rory Scannell was on the pitch but the Currow native asked for the tee. Neither strikes were clean and Leinster's lead was still 10-3.
Then, two minutes after Hanrahan's second miss, Leinster were awarded a penalty - through Doris' breakdown work - and Sexton made it 13-3.
Munster pressed hard in the closing stages but another big Doris tackle - on Kevin O'Byrne - effectively secured another turnover and the reigning champions just needed to see out the clock. They comfortably did and that was all she wrote for Munster.
Leinster make the final - against either Edinburgh or Ulster - and they also secured TIER 1 seeding for next season's Champions Cup pool stages. Still, they will need to up their game to retain their title, next weekend.
OUR MAN OF THE MATCH: Caelan Doris (Leinster)