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So Much At Stake This Evening

May 28, 2011 12:00 am By Munster Rugby

It’s a little bit more than a ‘bragging right’ that’s on offer this evening to the winner of the Magners Grand Final clash btween the sides who finished first and second in the League table.

First off Leinster. They arrive in Limerick not just as European Champions, firm favourites and widely proclaimed the best side in northern hemisphere rugby but also quietly determined to complete the unique double of Heineken and Magners titles while avoiding getting their reign off on a losing note.

For Munster there's the age old ambition of thwarting their arch rivals, the side who has supplanted them as the leading force in Europe, and to harvest silverware at the end of a Magners campaign that saw them win 19 out of 22 games to end up clear leaders at the top of the table. 

Were they to end up with nothing at the end of such a campaign, may seem cruel but as James Coughlan admitted during the week, "that's what we signed up to, we knew the format from the outset." and it lies in their own hands to ensure that doesn't happen. That too was something they'd set their sights on from the outset.

However, they face arguably, the toughest test of recent times.

This is a hard-nosed, skillful Leinster side who dont know when they're beaten as evidenced in last week's epic victory in Cardiff.

True, Northampton could never have lasted the blistering pace of the opening half and yes their second half collapse was hard to either imagine or understand. Unless of course we give credit to the extraordinary focus and mindset that Leinster brough to that second half and the blistering displays by the likes of Shane Jennings and Sean O'Brien and few more besides.

And therein lies the problem facing Munster this evening, if Leinster bring that type of form with them.

On the other hand,  back in early April, Leinster looked to have Munster beaten out the door at half time only to see Munster chip away at them in the second half and snatch a late late but deserved victory.

And if that second half was dredged from the 'old school' tactic book, the following weekend in Brive they showed they could play with pace and panache in the sweltering heat in the Amlin quarter final.

So what they need this evening is a combination of both, a little bit of a rub of the green and maybe the hope that Leinster's ambition has been sated.

Munster: F Jones; D Howlett, D Barnes, L Mafi, K Earls; R O'Gara, C Murray; M Horan, D Varley, J Hayes; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell capt; D Ryan, D Wallace, J Coughlan. Replacements: M Sherry, W du Preez, S Archer, D Leamy, N Ronan, P Stringer, P Warwick, J Murphy.

Leinster: I Nacewa; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, F McFadden, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen capt, N Hines; S O'Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip: Replacements: A Dundon, C Healy, S Wright, D Toner, K McLaughlin, P O'Donoghue, I Madigan, E O'Malley. 
 
Referee: Nigel Owens.

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Munster Crowned Magners League Champions

May 28, 2011 12:00 am By Munster Rugby

Munster picked up their second successive victory over Leinster and a second Magners League title in three seasons at Thomond Park this evening to finish the 2010/11 season in style.

Tries in either half from Doug Howlett and Keith Earls, as well as a late penalty try, gave the home side a thoroughly deserved victory.

Leinster, beaten finalists also twelve months ago, were denied an historic double having been crowned Heineken Cup champions in Cardiff seven days ago.

It was an error-strewn first-half for both sides, characterised by poor lineouts and a high turnover count. The first scoring opportunity fell to Leinster in the 6th minute when Marcus Horan was penalised for indiscipline at the ruck, but Jonathan Sexton’s penalty attempt was well off target.

Prior to this game, Munster’s last try against Leinster came way back in April 2009 when Denis Fogarty scored in the closing stages of a 22-5 Magners League win at Thomond Park. This was the seventh meeting of the sides since that fixture and Doug Howlett finally brought that try drought to an end in the 12th minute.

Lifeimi Mafi engineered the try with a wonderful sidestep to carve open the Leinster defence, before releasing the ball to Howlett to touch down in the corner for his 14th try of the season. Ronan O’Gara was left with a difficult conversion but the Munster out-half made no mistake to put the home side 7-0 ahead.

Leinster finally opened their account in the 29th minute when Sexton kicked a penalty to reduce Munster’s lead. O’Gara narrowly missed with a drop-goal attempt on the stroke of half-time so Munster went in at the break with a four-point advantage, a gap that probably flattered Leinster.

Leinster produced a stunning second-half comeback against Northampton last weekend to win the Heineken Cup and Joe Schmidt’s side came out with similar intentions after the interval this evening. Munster defended resiliently to prevent them from crossing the line early on when the visitors went through 24 phases, but it culminated in a second penalty for Sexton and a yellow card for Donncha O’Callaghan for not rolling away.

Within a minute of returning to the game, O’Callaghan conceded a penalty for not releasing the ball and Sexton capitalised to put Leinster 9-7 in front on the hour mark. But that lead lasted just six minutes as Munster’s second try arrived in the 66th minute.

A trademark cross-field kick from Ronan O’Gara found Keith Earls on the left wing and the 23-year-old evaded the tackles of Isa Nacewa and Shane Horgan to put Munster back in the ascendancy. O’Gara was unable to add the extras from another difficult angle so Munster remained three points ahead.

Munster came close to extending their lead on two occasions shortly afterwards. O’Gara, shaken by a heavy hit from Nacewa, missed a penalty from just inside the halfway line, while a magnificent individual run from Doug Howlett almost yielded another try but the former All Black failed to find Donnacha Ryan with the offload.

But Munster confirmed their status as newly-crowned Magners League champions with a try a minute from the end. Led by John Hayes, the Munster pack drove Leinster back under the posts and, as James Coughlan tried break away from the back, the scrum collapsed and Nigel Owens awarded a penalty try, which O’Gara converted.

David Wallace, named man-of-the-match after his 200th appearance in a red shirt, said afterwards: “The pace and intensity was phenomenal. Leinster had us on the ropes for the first 20 minutes of the second-half but we managed to hang in there and keep them out. It’s been a difficult season for us in many ways but we’re delighted to have finished on a high. It’s a very emotional day.”

Munster: F Jones (P Warwick 76); D Howlett, D Barnes, L Mafi, K Earls; R O’Gara, C Murray; M Horan (W du Preez 53), D Varley (M Sherry 59), J Hayes; D O’Callaghan yc 48-58 (D Leamy 67), P O’Connell (capt); D Ryan, D Wallace, J Coughlan.

Leinster: I Nacewa; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, F McFadden, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan (P O’Donoghue 77); H van der Merwe (C Healy 59), R Strauss (A Dundon 70), M Ross (S Wright 70); L Cullen (capt), N Hines; S O'Brien (K McLaughlin 59), S Jennings, J Heaslip.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
 

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