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Magners League Grand Final
Munster Rugby (7) 19 - 9 (3) Leinster Rugby
Thomond Park, Limerick,
Saturday, 28th May 2011, 17:05

Television: Live RTE 2, TG4, BBC Wales, BBC Alba

Leinster fell just short of completing a historic double in Thomond park yesterday, but will hold their heads high as Champions of Europe.

Fatigue was suggested, and seen, to be an issue in yesterday's game. It's been a long, hard season for the men in Blue, who battled through the best of Europe to reach their second Heineken Cup in three years. Newly crowned English champs Saracens fell to Leinster home and away in the pool stages of the competition. Runners up Leicester too fell in Lansdowne Road in the knock out stages. Three of the final four in the French Top 14, Toulouse and Clermont and Racing Metro, suffered defeat in Dublin. It's no surprise then, that bodies were battered and bruised coming into yesterday's final.

Munster, though not favoured by the bookies to clinch the title, seemed to be the pundits favourites for several reasons. Firstly there is the Thomond factor, Munster's ground is almost talismanic in itself, and although it may have lost its reputation as a fortress slightly in the last season there is no other team than Leinster that they love to beat on that ground. Second is the fans, who need little introduction, and have solidified a reputation as being some of the loudest, most rabid supporters in Rugby. Third, and I believe this to be a defining factor, Munster were simply more rested than Leinster coming into the game. The two week break between the semi-final and the final would have done wonders for the Munster team. Any bruises or knocks left over from the Osprey's game would have time to mend, and all sights could be set on taking out Leinster in two weeks time. Munster not reaching the knock out stages of the Heineken Cup wouldn't have hurt either. Leinster, on the other hand, were playing big game, knockout rugby while juggling the Magners league, trying to secure a place in the play offs and be crowned European kings. Munster of course did not share this worry, Europe was off the cards after Harlequins saw them off in the Amlin Cup, and were cruising so far ahead in the Magners League that nothing but a home play off seemed plausible.

And boy did it show. Leinster showed all the signs of physical and mental fatigue, and who could blame them? It was job done in a sense, the Heineken Cup was brought home, the Magners League was an after thought. Munster had silverware to play for though, a trophyless season would have been decimating to the Munster psyche after what has been a difficult year for the club. Under performance was rife, despite leading the Magners by a country mile, and fans started to become weary, this was made most evident by the increidbly poor turn out for the semi final against Ospreys. It is very, very rare that one sees empty seats in Thomond Park when Munster are playing.

The reds ran hard and were immensly physical up front, heaving Leinster off the ball, their first try scored by Doug Howlett was Munster 101, suck in defenders at the breakdown then move the ball wide. Its no great mystery and doesn't have the panache of the Leinster off loading game but when executed properly it's effective. Munster were barely legal for the 80 too, when defending they were offside most of the time, there were hands on the ground, a lot, and the men in red seemed unable to resist holding Leinster players on the ground for as long as possible. Referee Nigel Owens seemed to miss this or simply wasn't interested, and as the saying goes, its only cheating if you get caught. Marcus Horan though didn't help his reputation one iota, despite having a complete disregard for the laws of rugby and fair play he performed a laughable dive that would have footballers cringing. There is no room for that in rugby, Mr Horan. His inclusion in the Irish squad for the world cup would be criminal, but we should expect it from Declan Kidney.

This was all part of they key to Munster's victory though and was a game plan well executed. Run an already tired Leinster ragged and then mentally break them through off the ball knocks, and jibes. Quite ugly to watch but bloody effective, and no side are better at doing it than Munster.They've marched through Europe using these tactics in the past, it makes them no friends in the process, but they don't care about that.

Munster's best player on the day though was probably Eoin Reddan. His performance in blue was one of the worst we've seen. It certainly wasn't helped by Munster's complete refusal to roll away and by their love of throwing the odd leg or arm at a ball when off their feet, but still Reddan had a game he'll hope to forget, quick ball was completely absent, he was slow to the break down, his passing was at times suspect, the list goes on. Based on yesterday's display he may well have ruled himself out of contention for Ireland in the world cup, especially with Connor Murray proving himself to be quite the prospect. What was made more difficult re: Reddan was the fact that Isaac Boss was unavailable through injury, his presence would have made all the difference, especially around the fringes where Reddan failed monumentally. The penalty try awarded at the game's close said it all really, Leinster were worn out and run even more ragged by a well planned Munster.

Leinster will welcome the hard earned break before regrouping for the Ireland camp. It is an increidbly succesfull season for Joe Schmidt and his men after a nightmare begninning the Kiwi has shaped Leinster into the best outfit in Europe. Not only in success has this been proven, but also in the brand of running, offloading rugby the New Zealander has them playing. It is not just a joy to watch but doggedly effective. Next season looks bright already, the Leinster youth have proven this season that they can play with the big boys, and have proven so in big games too. The squad has just deepened nicely too with new signings on the way in the form of Matt Berquist and Stephen Sykes from the Southern Hemisphere. More home grown talent is arriving too, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan and Fionn Carr all arrive from Connacht, while Damian Browne comes in from Brive. Leinster are building a team of depth and determination that can go on to do great, great things.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Munster Rugby
Teams Isa Nacewa 15 Felix Jones
Shane Horgan 14 Doug Howlett
Brian O'Driscoll 13 Danny Barnes
Fergus McFadden 12 Liefeimi Mafi
Luke Fitzgerald 11 Keith Earls
Jonathan Sexton 10 Ronan O'Gara
Eoin Reddan 9 Conor Murray

Heinke van der Merwe 1 Marcus Horan
Richardt Strauss 2 Damien Varley
Mike Ross 3 John Hayes
Leo Cullen (C) 4 Donncha O'Callaghan
Nathan Hines 5 Paul O'Connell (C)
Sean O'Brien
6 Donncha Ryan
Shane Jennings
7 David Wallace
Jamie Heaslip 8 James Coughlan

Replacements Aaron Dundon
16 Mike Sherry
Cian Healy
17 Wian du Preez
Stan Wright 18 Stephen Archer
Devin Toner 19 Denis Leamy
Kevin McLaughlin
20 Niall Ronan
Paul O'Donohoe
21 Peter Stringer
Ian Madigan 22 Paul Warwick
Eoin O'Malley
23 Johne Murphy

Not Considered
due to Injury
Rob Kearney,
Shaun Berne,
Gordon D'Arcy,
Isaac Boss

Jerry Flannery,
Barry Murphy,
Dave Foley,
Tom Gleeson,
Dave Ryan,
Tony Buckley

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Tim Hayes, David Jones (both WRU)
4th & 5th Assistants: Alan Rogan, Trevor Collins (both IRFU)
TMO: Nigel Whitehouse (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Walsh (IRFU)

by Patrick Fennelly, © 2011-05-31