Sexton holds nerve to seal famous win

Munster 15 Leinster 16
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The Independent Online

You could lay the lion's share of the Ireland international squad end to end and they still wouldn't reach a compromise.

This much was clear in Limerick last night as the two powerhouses of Emerald Isle rugby set about each other with ferocity in a table-topping Magners League match. Both sides play big Heineken Cup quarter-finals on home soil next weekend and if they generate anything like the same heat, they will stand every chance of progressing to the last four.

Not that Northampton, who went close to beating Munster here in January, will travel without hope, for the former European champions are no great shakes in the set-piece these days. Marcus Horan, their loose-head prop, spent the entire first half moaning about the scrummaging technique of South African C J Van der Linde. He should have saved his breath. For one thing, the French referee Romain Poite was having none of it; for another, he will need every last ounce of puff to subdue the even more formidable Euan Murray when the Midlanders arrive in town.

Yet in other departments, Munster were their usual absorbent, belligerent selves. Ronan O'Gara kicked beautifully to maximise the value of a swarming performance from his forwards. The hosts were more than handy in defence, too: they have a South African of their own in the centre in Jean de Villiers and his double tackle on Gordon D'Arcy and John Fogarty saved a certain try.

Not that De Villier's heroics were of much use to his colleagues in the immediate term. A minute or so later, Isa Nacewa dropped a crafty little kick close to the left corner flag and the ball popped up for Rob Kearney, who touched down for a try handsomely converted by Jonathan Sexton. It broke the sequence of penalty goals and gave the visitors a 13-12 interval lead. That tilted the contest towards Leinster and when Sexton answered another O'Gara three-pointer with one of his own on 67 minutes, a first victory in 15 years was in prospect. They were forced to scramble for their lives at the last knockings but held on.

Munster: Penalties O'Gara 5. Leinster: Try Kearney. Conversion Sexton; Penalties Sexton 2, McFadden.

Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, L Mafi, J De Villiers, I Dowling (S Deasy 58); R O'Gara (capt), T O'Leary; M Horan, J Flannery (D Fogarty 69), J Hayes (A Buckley 72), D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll, A Quinlan, N Ronan, D Wallace (N Williams 76).

Leinster: R Kearney; G Dempsey, F McFadden, G D'Arcy (S Berne 66), I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; S Wright (Van der Linde 77), J Fogarty, C J Van der Linde (C Healy h-t), L Cullen (capt), D Toner (M O'Kelly 50), N Hines, S Jennings, J Heaslip.

Referee: R Poite (France).