JJ Hanrahan's missed conversion allowed Leinster to hold off a late fightback from Munster and claim a 27-25 win as the Guinness PRO14 returned to the Aviva Stadium.
Almost six months on from their last game due to the suspension of the season due to the coronavirus, Garry Ringrose’s late first-half try forged a 17-13 half-time lead for Leinster.
Hanrahan’s reliable right boot had Munster 13-10 ahead, with Andrew Conway and Cian Healy swapping early tries. However, their hopes of improving their second-place standing in Conference B were hit by injuries.
James Lowe finished off some slick interplay to put Leinster 11 points clear with half-an-hour remaining. Keith Earls and Conway crossed in a stirring Munster fightback, but Leinster replacement Ross Byrne’s 69th-minute penalty ultimately proved vital.
RG Snyman's Munster debut cruelly lasted just seven minutes, the South African lock jarring his left knee when stealing a lineout. Injury also ended Dave Kilcoyne’s night prematurely, but the visitors responded in brilliant fashion.
A flurry of forward pressure allowed man-of-the-match Chris Farrell and new signing Damian De Allende to go close before Conway, with 12 minutes on the clock, had a simple finish on the left. Hanrahan provided the assist and the conversion.
However, De Allende’s late tackle on Jonathan Sexton – followed by a speedy Ringrose break – saw Leinster end the first quarter level. A muscular 19th-minute maul ended with prop Healy scoring.
Hanrahan and Sexton then exchanged penalties, a lively CJ Stander winning the first at the breakdown and then coughing up the second. Stander got over the ball again to force a go-ahead 35th-minute penalty, Hanrahan nailing a fine long-range kick.
Yet, it was a Stander maul infringement which cost Munster just before half-time. Peter O’Mahony almost thwarted Leinster at the lineout, but with possession won back, Robbie Henshaw’s delicate grubber kick was dotted down by his centre partner Ringrose.
Having tucked away the extras for a four-point differential, Sexton increased his influence during the third quarter. He helped to turn over possession and then his beautifully-delayed pass allowed Ryan Baird to launch Lowe free from 40 metres out to make it 24-13.
Although Jean Kleyn’s injury left them with only seven forwards, Munster lifted the tempo and an outstretched Earls finished superbly past Luke McGrath in the left corner. Hanrahan converted with aplomb, and suddenly, Leinster were under immense pressure with Devin Toner in the sin-bin.
Showing just why they are unbeaten so far this year, Leo Cullen’s men set up Byrne to drive home his all-important penalty. Conway cut in past Lowe to notch his second try in the 71st minute, only for Hanrahan to fail with the conversion.