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

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Jack Crowley for Munster Credit: Alamy
Jack Crowley for Munster Credit: Alamy

A drop-goal from Jack Crowley helped Munster to beat Leinster 16-15 in their United Rugby Championship semi-final in Dublin on Saturday.

In a pulsating contest at the Aviva Stadium, the two Irish provinces threw everything at each other and it was the team in red that came out on top.

Victory means Munster progress to the URC final against the Stormers in Cape Town with Leinster crashing out at the semi-final stage once again.

Crowley‘s drop goal in the 77th minute came after Tadhg Beirne had scored Munster’s only try of the game five minutes into the second half. Crowley converted that score while Ben Healy knocked over two first-half penalties before coming off injured.

Leinster crossed twice in an epic fixture, through Jason Jenkins and Joe McCarthy, with Harry Byrne converting the former’s and slotting a penalty.

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In a hard-fought clash in Dublin, Leinster’s South African lock Jenkins scored against his former employers just before half-time to give the table toppers a 10-6 lead at the break.

However, the hosts, who had rested most of their frontliners ahead of next week’s Champions Cup final against La Rochelle, trailed soon after the interval as a converted 45th-minute score from Beirne put Munster back ahead.

The lead continued to change hands as Leinster replacement McCarthy touched down but Ciaran Frawley’s missed conversion left the advantage at just 15-13, and Munster’s persistence was rewarded with Crowley’s coolly-struck winner.

It was a second successive shock URC semi-final exit for Leinster, who lost the Bulls last year, and means the Stormers will host the league decider again, with Graham Rowntree’s men travelling to Cape Town in two weeks’ time.

Will Connors’ injury-enforced departure meant an early change for Leinster, with 2022 World Rugby Player of the Year Josh van der Flier sent into the fray, and the hosts took the lead when fly-half Byrne turned the penalty earned into three points.

A booming 10th-minute strike from Healy brought Munster level, although a Van der Flier rip in a tackle spoiled their first try-scoring opportunity.

Leinster forward Ryan Baird then had a superb solo try ruled out by Tommy O’Brien’s knock-on in an aerial duel, which was spotted by TMO Ben Whitehouse.

Apart from that, Munster’s defence was rock solid and rewarded with a second Healy penalty.

Frustratingly for the visitors, their well-oiled maul was foiled by turnovers, one from Max Deegan and another from Ronan Kelleher off a dummy drive.

Leinster made them pay when Robbie Henshaw’s well-timed offload sent Jenkins powering over from the edge of the Munster 22, with Byrne converting.

The dam finally broke for Munster early in the second half when a well-supported Beirne drove over beside the posts. Referee Frank Murphy spotted the grounding, with Crowley converting.

A vital Beirne steal prevented a quick response from Leinster, yet having turned down a simple three-pointer, Munster watched replacement Roman Salanoa knock-on near the home try-line.

Leinster took full advantage of some subsequent possession and territory, McCarthy burrowing over despite the best efforts of Keith Earls and Josh Wycherley.

Replacement Frawley’s missed conversion left just two points in it, and with high tackle and penalty counts coming back to haunt them, Leinster faltered late on.

Tireless Munster kept coming, breaking from deep following a Fineen Wycherley turnover and running back kicks, before Crowley’s right boot delivered the decisive points, putting them within reach of a first trophy since 2011.

READ MORE: United Rugby Championship: Manie Libbok stars again as Stormers beat Connacht to book final spot

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