Leinster title tips balance of power

Leinster 24 Munster 20
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The Independent Online

The Celtic League may have started as something of a mishmash, hybrid competition in August, but it came to an epic climax at Lansdowne Road on Saturday as the crowd for the inaugural final reached 30,000. It was a day not to be missed and a game that proved the balance of rugby power in Ireland might be moving towards Dublin.

Boasting an unbeaten run of 13 matches going into the game Leinster emerged from a seemingly hopeless position to win in some style against their southern rivals.

With Irish back-rower Eric Miller sent off after 25 minutes for a reckless kick out at Anthony Foley, the Leinster position looked desperate four minutes into the second half when Ronan O'Gara added to his side's two first half tries with a penalty that made it 15-6.

In normal circumstances the mighty Munster pack would have closed down the game to extend their dominance of the Irish scene but these days Leinster are no normal side.

At half-time their canny Australian coach Matt Williams told them: "All of Ireland expects you to crumble because the only team with spirit in Ireland is supposed to be Munster; be bold, stick to your guns and go out and prove them wrong.''

The 14 men worked their way back into contention via the boot of Nathan Spooner, but it was fitting that Leinster's potent back division nailed the title with two great tries because they have been arguably the best attacking unit in Europe this season.

Both tries, from wing Gordon D'Arcy and centre Shane Horgan, came from clean breaks against one of the tightest defences and inspired their normally passive fans to even out sing the army of Munster men.

But if the glory went to the backs, the real heroes were skipper Reggie Corrigan and his fellow forwards for not giving an inch to the Munster eight. Paul Wallace caused no end of discomfort in the front row, Malcolm O'Kelly was magnificent at the line-out and the Victor Costello had the kind of match to put him back into the international reckoning.

Leinster: Tries D'Arcy, Horgan. Conversion Spooner. Penalties Spooner 4. Munster: Tries Foley, O'Neill, Horgan. Conversion O'Gara. Penalty O'Gara.

Leinster: G Dempsey; D Hickey, B O'Driscoll, S Horgan, G D'Arcy; N Spooner, B O'Meara; R Corrigan (capt), S Byrne, P Wallace, L Cullen (R Casey, 58), E Miller, K Gleeson, V Costello.

Munster: D Crotty (M Mullins, 1-9, 65); J O'Neill, J Kelly (D Hegarty, 25, 32), R Henderson (J Holland, 57), A Horgan; R O'Gara, M Prendergast; M Horan, F Shehan, P Clohessy (M Cahill, 60), M Galwey (captain), M O'Driscoll, 74, P O'Connell (C McMahon, 74), J Williams, A Quinlan, A Foley.

Referee: N Whitehouse (Wales).

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