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Leinster player ratings vs Munster | URC

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Leinster player ratings live from Aviva Stadium: On the surface, a game in a tournament where they already had the number one quarter-final ranking sewn up didn’t appear to have much – if any – relevance regarding next weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup final showpiece versus La Rochelle in Marseille.

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None of the 15 Leinster players who took the field as starters in last weekend’s semi-final versus Toulouse were picked to take on Munster in this URC derby. Also, only three European replacements were included – Ciaran Frawley and Joe McCarthy as starters, with Cian Healy again named on the bench but curiously to provide tighthead cover on this occasion.

The Leinster Champions Cup XV is an extraordinarily difficult group to break into. Across the four European knockout stages games played recently over six weeks, eleven players started all four games.

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If the ankle injury suffered by Tadhg Furlong, the concussion that affected Ronan Kelleher and the shin issue encountered by James Lowe against Toulouse all come right for Marseille, the expectation will be that Leinster will name the exact same XV for the final that started the quarter and semi-final matches.

However, the inclusion of the fit-again Jordan Larmour and Ryan Baird to take on Munster did give Saturday evening’s game some genuine cup final intrigue – could the highly-rated duo do enough to twist Leo Cullen’s arm and force their way into the frame for a bench spot at Stade Velodrome?

The result of the derby was way more important for the visiting Munster. They had gone into the final weekend of the league’s regular-season in second spot and eying a home quarter-final against seventh-place Scottish opposition with home advantage to also follow if they reached the semi-finals. But results prior to kick had seen them tumble down the rankings to sixth, leaving them facing a last-eight trip to Ulster unless they could come away points from Dublin to get them back up the rankings.

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They started feebly, falling behind to an 80-second try from Scott Penny, but a belter of first-half unfolded in front of a 32,411 attendance, Munster hitting back with tries from Jack O’Donoghue and Mike Haley before Leinster regained a 15-12 lead on 23 minutes through Cormac Foley’s converted score.

The departure soon after of Frawley, who gave the assist for both Leinster tries, had European significance as he was the No23 in there of their four recent Champions Cup games and that’s a jersey of great interest to the man of the match Larmour, while the impact of Baird will also see him have much support in the debate to take a cup final bench jersey from Joe McCarthy.

As for how the second half panned out, Munster hit the front with a Conor Murray try but a three-minute burst from the 51st-minute that produced two Leinster tries – a penalty try and a score from Rory O’Loughlin – became the catalyst for the hosts to go on and deservedly win 35-25. Here are the Leinster player ratings on a night where they set up an RDS quarter-final versus Glasgow with pointless Munster left facing a trip further up the road to Belfast rather than down to South Africa:

15. Jordan Larmour – 8.5
His first outing since shipping a hip injury eleven weeks ago in Treviso, he had worn the No14 jersey in Leinster’s three pool games over the winter but that shirt was Jimmy O’Brien’s in the four recent knockout games. Busy early on, assisting at the ruck that gave Harry Byrne his ninth-minute penalty points and then tidying to touch the kick through that followed a Leinster fumble in their own 22. His best moment, though, was the weaving, dancing-feet break that took the play from his 22 to halfway, igniting the move for Foley’s try. Treated the crowd to further swagger early in the second half, that attack netting Leinster the penalty that cut the gap to 18-19, and again in the lead-up to the O’Loughlin try, while there was also a slick one-handed offload out the back near the line. Expect to see him involved in Marseille.

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14. Rob Russell – 6
A URC level novice, he had a quiet time until he was swapped to the left flank to accommodate Adam Byrne’s introduction as Frawley’s replacement. Was sin-binned three minutes from the break for a deliberate knock-on with Munster looking to exploit an overlap near halfway and proceeded to have a limited second half.

13. Jamie Osborne – 7.5
Another whose rookie status is restricted to URC exposure, he was involved in the build-up to Foley score but will be disappointed he didn’t do better with a 36th-minute grubber that was swiftly returned with interest. His missed catch then led to Murray’s early second-half try, but he finished out the game with a thunderous try-saving tackle in the corner that injured Jack Daly out of the game.

12. Ciaran Frawley – 8
The 23rd-man sub in three of Leinster’s four recent European games, he revelled his 26 minutes in the second playmaker role outside Byrne, sweetly lofting a kick to the corner for the first score and then providing the assist to Foley for the second. Unfortunately, he then took a blow to the face in the tackle and was carted off for a head injury assessment. A real pity as he was in explosive form.

11. Rory O’Loughlin – 7.5
A sub for last year’s semi-final loss at La Rochelle, he had his struggles as it was down his channel when Munster had most joy during their first-half purple patch. His botched pass into touch rather than into the hands of Larmour on 25 minutes summed up his discomfort but looked way more at ease when switched into midfield after Frawley’s exit. That big improvement was capped by his 54th-minute try which left him beaming after he produced a sweet dummy and a run in from the 22.

10. Harry Byrne – 8
Has just one European credit to his name, a run off the December 2020 bench at Montpellier, so this was basically an opportunity to remind people he has a talent that isn’t getting much of a look-in at the highest level. Looked the URC part, particular when Frawley was on his shoulder, and he continued to impress after the centre’s exit in a very watchable head to head with Joey Carbery. Landed five from six off the tee for 13 points and led his team well for his 77 minutes.

9. Cormac Foley – 8
Just a second career start for the youngster with Leinster keeping Jamison Gibson-Park and Luke McGrath under wraps for next week. Started brightly with snappy passing and was unlucky not to bundle O’Donoghue into touch when the No8 dived in at the corner for his twelfth-minute Munster try. Quickly got his own back when streaking away to beat Haley to the line and score. Disappointingly exited injured on 59 minutes after a very tidy performance.

1. Ed Byrne – 6.5
A replacement in both round of 16 European games versus Connacht, the return to fitness of Andrew Porter and the reliability of the veteran Healy has left him in the stands in recent weeks. Didn’t stand out here in a 50-minute contribution where scrums were in short supply.

2. Sean Cronin – 7
Not since a start versus Saracens in the sobering September 2020 quarter-final loss has the soon-to-retire veteran featured in a European line-up, but he showed he can still wield an influence at URC level. For example, he got a sweet penalty for a breakdown poach on 32 minutes. Exited on 50 minutes and his replacement John McKee was carrying the ball at the back of the collapsed maul that quickly earned a penalty try.

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3. Thomas Clarkson – 6.5
With Furlong an early casualty versus Toulouse, there was no way Leinster were going to risk the second-choice Michael Alaalatoa here. It meant a sixth career start for rookie tighthead Clarkson and he quickly demonstrated his agility, tidying up a turnover and absorbing a penalised high shot from Jean Kleyn. However, his rawness was soon evident as his cheap fumble gave Munster the possession that eventually led to O’Donoghue’s try. Was the final part of the front row that was hooked as one ten minutes after the break.

4. Joe McCarthy – 6.5
Having been the quarter and semi-final replacement lock in recent weeks, the jersey was, in theory, his to keep but you feel Baird might have more to offer Leinster off the bench in France. That is no slight on the very promising McCarthy, just a realisation that his rival has more strings and experience to his bow.

5. Josh Murphy – 6.5
Started both of the round of 16 games versus Connacht as James Ryan had yet to return from his Twickenham concussion on Ireland duty, but hasn’t been involved in recent weeks. Trucked along competently enough for his 56 minutes before the veteran Devin Toner closed it out in the engine room.

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6. Ryan Baird – 8
Hadn’t played a first-team match since his late February start for Ireland versus Italy in the Six Nations due to a back injury. Began with two carries, the second especially damaging, in the move leading up to the opening score, but couldn’t get enough of a tackle in to deny Haley from scoring the second Munster try. The enthusiasm at the heart of his performance was encapsulated by his punching-the-air reaction to Leinster forcing a game-stopping from Munster when the hosts were protecting a 15-12 lead while a man down heading towards the break. Pivotal presence when his team then made the winning push around the 50th-minute mark.

7. Scott Penny – 8
Very much a URC stalwart as all 40 of his previous Leinster appearances were at that level – league and Rainbow Cup – and not in Europe. He got off to a flyer with a brilliant run into the corner after catching Frawley’s crosskick and he continued to be a dominant influence, showcasing he has so much to offer despite being down the queue of back rows.

8. Max Deegan – 7.5
A replacement in the round of 16 first leg at Connacht, Rhys Ruddock was the preferred Leinster back row sub in the three subsequent European games. Deegan, though, showed here what he has in his armoury, an appetite to carry and a determination to dig in under pressure. This was a sound test for him against O’Donoghue and he more than responded.

Replacements:
23. Adam Byrne (for Frawley, 26); 16. John McKee (for Cronin), 17. Peter Dooley (for E Byrne), 18. Cian Healy (for Clarkson, all 50); 19. Devin Toner (for Murphy, 56); 21. Ben Murphy (for Foley, 59); 20. Alex Soroka (for McCarthy, 66); 22. David Hawkshaw (for H Byrne, 77)

Of particular interest here was the selection of specialist loosehead Healy as the tighthead bench cover, but the scrums weren’t an influential part of this end-game. Meanwhile, Ben Murphy, the son of title-winning Ireland U20s boss Richie Murphy, made his debut and looked easy on the eye in his 21 minutes.

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