By Phil Rice
Munster’s recent propensity to falter at the semi-final stage of major competitions, returned to haunt them again last weekend, as Leinster turned on the style in a second-half onslaught that left a battling Munster licking their wounds at the penultimate stage yet again.
Leinster themselves were looking to recover from the narrow defeat to Saracens in the Champions Cup final the previous week.
One of the strengths of this quality Leinster side is their ability to take the positives from defeat and utilise those setbacks to build a greater resolve and come back stronger.
As Saracens demonstrated the previous weekend, a match lasts for 80 minutes and the fact that you are trailing after 30 minutes shouldn’t deter your resolve to come back and overwhelm the opposition in the second half.
Munster were impressive for 30 minutes and were unlucky to only lead by three points at that stage, but Leinster began the second half with a clear resolve to take control of the match.
If the #GuinnessPRO14 Semi Finals were anything to go by, we will all be treated to an absolute spectacle this Saturday at Celtic Park
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Peter O’Mahony’s brave team were engulfed by wave after wave of relentless pressure and Leinster won going away by 24-9.
The fact that Munster have repeatedly failed at the penultimate stage of major competitions should be a concern to their management.
They have a good pack but are not good enough to over-power the likes of Leinster and Saracens.
Johann van Graan is a quality coach and he has promised to strengthen his side during the off season. Tadhg Beirne and Joey Carbery have added to their firepower this year, but further reconstructive is still required.
Leinster face Glasgow Warriors this weekend in the Pro14 final at Celtic Park in Glasgow.
Home advantage will benefit Glasgow and they were impressive in comprehensively beating Ulster, 50-20. Not a fitting conclusion to Rory Best’s career with the province.
Ulster have improved this season but like Munster they have a distance to go to seriously challenge for major titles.
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Glasgow were battered by Saracens in the Champions Cup quarter-final a few weeks ago, but they appear to have come back stronger also. Saturday’s final will be a closely fought affair.
Most of the players involved will also face each other in their first match of this year’s World Cup in just four months’ time, when Ireland and Scotland lock horns in their Pool A opener.
Victory on Saturday will give a significant psychological advantage, and both teams will be aware of that.
Leinster have a strong resolve to have something to show for their season’s efforts, particularly after their narrow failure at the hands of Saracens.
Josh van der Flier returned to the back-row at the weekend after a three month break following groin surgery. He made a huge contribution to his side’s second-half effort and was given a standing ovation when he left the field after 77 minutes.
He was the outstanding player on the pitch and was deservedly man of the match award.
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Joe Schmidt will be delighted to see his recovery as he was badly missed during the Six Nations.
Less welcome for Ireland’s head coach was the sight of Devin Toner being helped from the field with knee ligament damage against Munster.
Unlikely to feature against Glasgow, Toner also missed most of the Six Nations and his absence was a significant factor in Ireland’s lack of success at the line out.
Scott Fardy is an able deputy as he proved when he came on for Toner.
In recent matches against Glasgow, Leinster have tended to dominate up front and blunted the Scottish team’s talented back division.
Stuart Hogg will be playing his final match for the Warriors prior to his move to Exeter next season. He has been in outstanding form lately and Leinster will need to starve him of opportunities to counter attack.
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Johnny Sexton surprisingly began last weekend’s match on the bench, as Ross Byrne’s impressive development continues apace.
Perhaps the ease at which Munster got under Sexton’s skin last December prompted Cullen to only introduce the fly-half when his team were well on top. Expect last year’s World Player of the Year to start.
Another popular figure with the Leinster fans is New Zealand winger James Lowe. He will become eligible for Ireland in a year’s time and should make a big impact at international level.
His ability to provide unexpected interventions from the wing and his exceptional pace and strength have been vital for Leinster since his introduction.
His try in the closing minutes at the weekend demonstrated his ability to turn an unlikely try scoring opportunity into points.
Leinster have had two weekends of attritional rugby and will be feeling the effects of their efforts, but they have a strong resolve to end the season with a major trophy and should be celebrating on Saturday evening.