Leinster secured a hard-earned 24-9 semi-final win over Munster at the RDS which gives them a shot at back-to-back Guinness PRO14 titles.
Leo Cullen’s men will meet Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park next Saturday in a clash of the Conference winners, as second-half tries from Sean Cronin and James Lowe – coupled with Ross Byrne’s 14 points – ended Munster’s hopes at the penultimate stage for the second successive year.
The last interprovincial derby of the season was finely balanced at half-time, Byrne’s final kick giving the hosts a 9-6 lead despite losing winger Lowe to the sin-bin. On his return to the venue, Joey Carbery landed two penalties to Byrne’s three.
Although Leinster lost lineout lynchpin Devin Toner to a worrying knee injury, further goals from Byrne and Carbery were followed by Cronin’s crucial 54th-minute try during Niall Scannell’s sin-bin.
Captain Jonathan Sexton came off the home bench to help tee up Lowe’s last-minute score in the left corner, which drew the biggest cheer from the sell-out 18,977 crowd.
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Josh Van der Flier’s rapid recovery from a groin injury earned him his first Leinster appearance since January and he showed what his province and country have been missing with a man-of-the-match performance.
The fit-again Carbery and Keith Earls returned from injury for the fired-up Munstermen, who were pipped 16-15 in the corresponding fixture last May.
Fly-halves Byrne and Carbery traded early penalties, Lowe posing a threat on the right wing but he was guilty of taking out Conor Murray soon after.
Munster gained ground through Chris Farrell’s robust carries, but a Robbie Henshaw turnover sparked Leinster’s counter-attack from deep which included a pacy Garry Ringrose break.
Van der Flier was crowded out in the left corner following a clever short lineout between Cronin and James Ryan, yet Munster were more efficient with ball in hand.
Murray’s well-timed pass sent Tadhg Beirne charging into the 22 and pressure out wide led to Lowe’s sin-binning for a deliberate knock-on. Carbery split the posts again from the right for a deserved 6-3 lead.
Munster’s approach work was impressive as Farrell, Rory Scannell and Dave Kilcoyne continued to make yards.
Their scrum also won two penalties but turnovers from Van der Flier and Cian Healy allowed Leinster to hit back.
Byrne kicked two more penalties, the latter rewarding a sparkling midfield surge from Jordan Larmour.
Byrne’s right boot grew in influence with an early second-half penalty, set up by Cronin’s defence-splitting charge.
It was a double setback for Munster with Cronin’s opposite number Scannell binned for being caught offside on the retreat.
Carbery replied after his own excellent touch finder and Arno Botha’s skittling of tacklers, only for Leinster to find the next gear.
First, they found space for Lowe on the left and Ringrose capitalised on an overlap on right, linking with the entire front row as Cronin cut in past Jean Kleyn’s tackle to crash over. Byrne converted for a sudden 19-9 advantage.
Having scrambled well to absorb Sexton’s smart break, Munster pressed again through their forwards.
Their maul was thwarted in the Leinster 22 and Toner’s replacement, Scott Fardy, came up with an important turnover.
Leinster tightened their control and duly got back into position for Sexton and Rory O’Loughlin to send Lowe over in the corner, past Mike Haley and a last-ditch tackle from Farrell.
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