Argentinian international Felipe Contepomi grabbed the headlines at the RDS on Saturday as his 25-point salvo spurred Leinster to a 35-23 defeat of Celtic League leaders Munster.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Saturday, December 31
LEINSTER 35 MUNSTER 23, The RDS (Att: 14,155)
Scorers: Leinster: Tries: Brian Blaney, Shane Horgan, Felipe Contepomi 2; Cons: Contepomi 3; Pens: Contepomi 3
Munster: Tries: Paul O'Connell, Trevor Halstead; Cons: Ronan O'Gara 2; Pens: O'Gara 3
A Celtic League record crowd of 14,155 watched on as Leinster put a dent in Munster's lead at the top of the table and venged their 33-9 Musgrave Park mauling back in October.
Tries from Brian Blaney and Shane Horgan catapulted Leinster, who had Ireland Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll back starting for the first time this season, into a somewhat fortuitous 21-9 interval lead. And although they had both Contepomi and Reggie Corrigan sin-binned in the second half and leaked tries to Paul O'Connell and Trevor Halstead, two touchdowns from Contepomi in the closing ten minutes secured a valuable bonus point for the men in blue.
With 20 Irish internationals on show from the kick-off, Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan was an interested spectator. Backed by a stiff breeze, Contepomi punished Gary Connolly for holding on in the tackle on six minutes, kicking Leinster in front before Ronan O'Gara immediately replied with a penalty of his own.
Leinster struck a psychological blow on 22 minutes when they scored from a lineout drive straight out of the visitors' textbook. With Peter Stringer caught in possession, the home side took on the set-piece and from a Malcolm O'Kelly take, young hooker Blaney plunged over.
Blaney's first try for his province was added to by a Contepomi penalty, but with Munster's forwards grinding out the hard yards, two place kicks from O'Gara cut the deficit back to 11-9.
However, winger Horgan struck on 37 minutes when, with a lot of work to do, he brushed aside the tackles of Anthony Horgan and David Wallace to sprint over at the right corner and touch down near the posts.
Contepomi converted and added his third penalty in injury-time, but the Puma star turned villain seven minutes into the second half when he was yellow carded for preventing a quick ruck release. Penalty misses from O'Gara and Girvan Dempsey followed, and although Leinster's lead stood strong, they were further hampered when prop Corrigan was sidelined for another ruck offence.
Munster made it a five-point game on 65 minutes when lock O'Connell spun out of tackles from Guy Easterby and Blaney to score and O'Gara converted.
Still, Leinster were playing the better rugby. Contepomi furthered his influence on the game on 74 minutes when he chipped over the covering Anthony Foley inside the home 22 and beat the cover to gather the kick and slide in at the posts.
Munster hit back again when O'Gara swung a skip pass out for replacement Halstead to sprint over at the right corner, but O'Gara's excellent conversion mattered little in the end as Contepomi raced clear clear for his second try in the fifth minute of injury-time. The number 10 sped onto a loose ball, 35 mettres out, and beat both Horgan and Halstead to touch down at the corner flag and convert for a memorable finish.
TIMELINE: 6 minutes - Leinster penalty: Felipe Contepomi - 3-0; 8 mins - Munster penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 3-3; 22 mins - Leinster try: Brian Blaney - 8-3; conversion: missed - 8-3; 26 mins - Leinster penalty: Felipe Contepomi - 11-3; 28 mins - Munster penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 11-6; 33 mins - Munster penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 11-9; 37 mins - Leinster try: Shane Horgan - 16-9; conversion: Felipe Contepomi - 18-9; 40(+3) mins - Leinster penalty: Felipe Contepomi - 21-9; HALF-TIME - Leinster 21 Munster 9; 46 mins - Leinster yellow card: Felipe Contepomi; 61 mins - Leinster yellow card: Reggie Corrigan; 65 mins - Munster try: Paul O'Connell - 21-14; conversion: Ronan O'Gara - 21-16; 74 mins - Leinster try: Felipe Contepomi - 26-16; conversion: Felipe Contepomi - 28-16; 80 mins - Munster try: Trevor Halstead - 28-21; conversion: Ronan O'Gara - 28-23; 80+5 mins - Leinster try: Felipe Contepomi - 33-23; conversion: Felipe Contepomi - 35-23; FULL-TIME - Leinster 35 Munster 23
Leinster: Girvan Dempsey; Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll (capt), Gordon D'Arcy, Kieran Lewis; Felipe Contepomi, Guy Easterby; Reggie Corrigan, Brian Blaney, Will Green, Malcolm O'Kelly, Adam Byrnes, Cameron Jowitt, Keith Gleeson, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements used: Bryce Williams for Byrnes (17-27 mins), Williams for Byrnes (53), Ronan McCormack for Jowitt (62), Denis Hickie for O'Driscoll (72), Eric Miller for Corrigan (76); Not used: David Blaney, Brian O'Riordan, Jonny Hepworth.
Munster: Shaun Payne; John Kelly, Barry Murphy, Gary Connolly, Anthony Horgan; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, Federico Pucciariello, Mick O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Anthony Foley (capt).
Replacements used: John Hayes for Pucciariello (52 mins), Trevor Halstead for Connolly, Donncha O'Callaghan for O'Driscoll (both 63), Trevor Hogan for O'Connell (80+1), Jeremy Manning for O'Gara (80+3-80+5); Not used: Denis Fogarty, Mike Prendergast.
Referee: Alistair McKay (IRFU); Touch Judges: Simon McDowell, Marshall Kilgore (both IRFU)