Leinster failed to pick up any points from their interprovincial derby trip to Ravenhill as front runners Ulster extended their RaboDirect PRO12 winning streak to 11 matches…Joe Schmidt post-match reaction…
Meeting for the first time since last season’s Heineken Cup final, Ulster maintained their nine-point lead at the top of the table with a three tries-to-one win over Leinster.
Three Ian Madigan penalties had the visitors well in contention at 13-9 down at the break, and the Leinster out-half added another successful kick early in the second half.
But Ulster’s control of the set piece – they forced a penalty try in the 37th minute – helped them build for further tries from Nick Williams and Andrew Trimble.
Trimble picked off a pinpoint cross-field kick from Ruan Pienaar to score with five minutes remaining. The Pienaar-converted try was cancelled out by a well-worked Fergus McFadden effort, but Ulster ran out worthy winners of this gritty derby clash.
Speaking afterwards, Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt said: “The try just after half-time that was awarded to Nick Williams was probably the turning point of the game. That try put it outside the seven-point margin.
“While there were aspects of the game that Ulster dominated and they deserved their win, I was disappointed that we did not get the bonus point we deserved. It is only the second time we’ve lost away by eight or nine points and not an ideal margin to lose by.”
He added: “No disrespect to the younger guys but we are getting down the food chain a little bit, so it would be nice to get some of our experienced guys back (from injury) – just to give us a sense of calm out there.
“I think there were a few decisions we took that weren’t great, then we started to put pressure on ourselves as well as a good side like Ulster put pressure on you.”
Paddy Jackson’s radar was off as he missed his first shot at the posts in the fourth minute, failing to follow up on a decent bout of carrying from Ulster’s fired-up forward.
Leinster’s pack also bore their teeth early on, carrying hard at the Ulster defence with Cian Healy and the returning Kevin McLaughlin proving particularly effective at getting over the gain-line.
Madigan rifled over the opening points from a 12th minute penalty on the right, punishing Tom Court for a binding offence in a scrum.
There were further positives for the men in blue as Gordon D’Arcy was busy in attack and Sean O’Brien thundered forward from a loose Ulster lineout.
Towards the end of the first quarter Madigan repeated the trick from the right wing, moving Leinster 6-0 ahead following a lively move that was sparked by a fine catch and run from young full-back Noel Reid.
Jackson pulled his second penalty attempt wide after Ulster gained good yardage from a maul in the 22, set up by a brilliant lineout take from a stretching Neil McComb.
But Ulster got on the scoreboard with 26 minutes gone, Jackson doing the necessary from a central kick after the table toppers got a shove on in the scrum.
A meaty long range strike from Pienaar had Ulster back level by the half hour mark, with Leinster again conceding ground in the set piece.
Strong runs from Fergus McFadden and Brendan Macken had Leinster back in scoring range and a subsequent ruck infringement allowed Madigan drill home his third penalty goal, this time from right in front of the posts.
Ulster upped the intensity in sight of the half-time though, barnstorming number 8 Willams crashing past Leo Cullen and Devin Toner on an inspirational solo burst.
Reid then carried a Jackson kick over the try-line at the expense of a five-metre scrum. The Ulster front row took their opportunity to press with referee George Clancy awarding them a 37th minute penalty try which Pienaar converted.
Leinster opened well in the second period with Jamie Heaslip breaking onto the restart and Madigan slotting another penalty from central range.
However, that good work was undone when Trimble swooped on an intercept and passed for Darren Cave to bring play up close to the Leinster whitewash. Schmidt’s men could not hold out as Williams was adjudged to have touched down from close range, despite the best efforts of O’Brien.
Pienaar’s conversion put Ulster 20-12 to the good but as both coaches looked to their respective benches, the South African missed a kickable effort following another power-packed maul drive.
Madigan landed some encouraging touchfinders and a half-break from Macken showed a glimpse of what the Leinster back-line could offer with ball in hand.
Leinster missed a chance to put Ulster under some late pressure as Madigan sent a penalty to the left and wide with Ulster hooker Rory Best in the sin-bin for infringing at a ruck.
At the other end, a clinical piece of attacking put the result beyond doubt for Mark Anscombe’s side. The home forwards did the hard graft once again, providing quick ball for Pienaar to hang up his kick and Trimble towered above the Leinster cover to swoop in for the game’s decisive try.
Willed on by former Ulster scrum half Isaac Boss, Leinster marched back downfield and after a concerted spell of possession, Madigan’s clever looped pass put McFadden over on the left.
Although the conversion cut the margin to eight points, Ulster stood firm to register only their second victory over Leinster in 19 meetings since 2004.
ULSTER SCORERS: Penalty try, N. Williams (1 try), A. Trimble (1 try), R. Pienaar (3 conversions and 1 penalty), P. Jackson (1 penalty)
LEINSTER SCORERS: F. McFadden (1 try), I. Madigan (1 conversion and 4 penalties)
ULSTER: J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, J Afoa, I Henderson, N McComb, R Diack, C Henry CAPTAIN, N Williams.
REPLACEMENTS: R Herring, C Black, A Macklin, A O’Connor, R Wilson, P Marshall, P Wallace, A D’Arcy.
15: Noel Reid (Andrew Goodman, 54)
14: Andrew Conway
13: Brendan Macken
12: Gordon D’Arcy
11: Fergus McFadden
10: Ian Madigan
9: Eoin Reddan (Isaac Boss, 58)
1: Cian Healy (Heinke van der Merwe, 54)
2: Sean Cronin
3: Michael Bent (Jamie Hagan, 58)
4: Leo Cullen CAPTAIN (Tom Denton, 54)
5: Devin Toner
6: Kevin McLaughlin (Rhys Ruddock, half-time)
7: Sean O’Brien
8: Jamie Heaslip
REPLACEMENTS NOT USED: Aaron Dundon, Adam Byrne.
REFEREE: George Clancy (IRFU), ASSISTANT REFEREES: Peter Fitzgibbon, Olly Hodges (both IRFU), TMO: Dermot Moloney (IRFU).