Leinster completed an historic set of victories over their fellow provinces as they out-battled Ulster in a RaboDirect PRO12 derby full of hard collisions at Ravenhill…Joe Schmidt post-match reaction…
The eight-point success saw Leinster become the first team to claim six straight interprovincial wins, home and away, in a single league campaign.
In what was a potential dress rehearsal for the Heineken Cup final, Jonathan Sexton’s 67th-minute steered the visitors home and put Ulster almost certainly out of the play-off race.
Kevin McLaughlin’s early try gave Leinster a lead that they held onto throughout a rain-lashed first half, which ended 13-8 in their favour.
Ulster captain Johann Muller rallied his side with a five-pointer, although Sexton’s brace of penalties eclipsed a single kick from Ruan Pienaar.
The South African scrum half was left ruing three missed kicks as Sexton’s drop goal proved to be the only score of a scrappy second 40 minutes.
Speaking after the game, Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt said: “There’s no injuries, we came through it pretty well. Delighted with the result, that’s the clean sweep…that is a little achievement that we can store away.
“Now it’s about chasing silverware. It’s a heck of a tough task that awaits us next week (in the Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont Auvergne).
“I thought we started really well, got through in behind Ulster, put a few phases together and Kevin McLaughlin finished off really nicely.
“But then we went backwards a little bit and allowed Ulster time and space to play. They’re a good side, you don’t want to give them time and space so that’s a good reminder for us for next week.
“I thought once the drizzle came down we tried to overplay, it was static, the ruck was slow. Once we started putting the ball in behind them, I thought territorially we managed to get more control – and control the half a bit more.”
A half break from Fergus McFadden underlined Leinster’s eagerness to hit the ground running in Belfast, with the Ulstermen forced to defend early on.
From a scrum near halfway, David Kearney sliced through the home defence and Leinster were quick to pounce for an opening seventh minute try.
After some good recycling in the home 22, Eoin Reddan’s cut out pass sent McLaughlin coasting in to the right of the posts. Sexton converted for a 7-0 lead.
Stefan Terblanche and Muller sparked Ulster into life but as the rain came down, Leinster continued to control possession and look the more potent side.
Ulster missed a chance to reply as a Pienaar penalty attempt bounced away off the right hand post, with the home forwards beginning to make their mark.
The hosts closed the gap to 7-5 with their best move of the first half. Pienaar provided quick ball and Willie Faloon and Paddy Wallace linked smartly before the latter invited Muller to barge his way over in the right corner.
Television match official Peter Ferguson confirmed the try, however Pienaar slid his conversion effort narrowly wide.
Constructive play from the Leinster forwards gave Sexton his second shot at the posts, and he duly delivered to make it 10-5 to the table toppers.
Injuries to Chris Henry and Wallace forced Ulster into changes, yet the deficit was back to two points when Pienaar swung over a well-struck penalty.
Still, Leinster had enough time to hit back in first half injury-time, their forwards rumbling up towards the posts and Sexton slotting the resulting penalty.
Ulster upped the intensity on the restart with Robbie Diack and Pedrie Wannenburg carrying well, but they had no end product to show for their hard running.
Leinster, already assured of a home semi-final in the league, were in no mood to back down and a number of players were keen to impress with that Heineken Cup semi-final trip to France looming large on the horizon.
Rob Kearney caught the eye on a lively midfield run, but it was Ulster who had the first scoring opportunity of the half. A scrum decision went their way, but Pienaar’s long range kick went the wrong side of the right hand post.
Brian O’Driscoll countered superbly from deep, but spoiled the attack with a loose pass to McFadden. There were few bright spots in a defence-dominated second period, with Leinster doggedly keeping their hosts at bay.
Sexton hung up a cross-field kick for David Kearney which Craig Gilroy did well to defend, but Leinster wrapped up the result minutes later with Sexton’s drop goal from close range.
ULSTER SCORERS: J. Muller (1 try), R. Pienaar (1 penalty)
LEINSTER SCORERS: K. McLaughlin (1 try), J. Sexton (1 conversion, 2 penalties and 1 drop goal)
ULSTER: S Terblanche; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, N Brady, D Fitzpatrick, J Muller CAPTAIN, L Stevenson, C Henry, W Faloon, P Wannenburg.
REPLACEMENTS: A Kyriacou, P McAllister, A Macklin, N McComb, R Diack, I Porter, I Humphreys, A D’Arcy.
15: Rob Kearney (Fionn Carr, 68)
14: David Kearney
13: Brian O’Driscoll
12: Fergus McFadden
11: Luke Fitzgerald
10: Jonathan Sexton (Ian Madigan, 72)
9: Eoin Reddan (Isaac Boss, 57)
1: Cian Healy (Heinke van der Merwe, 57)
2: Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin, 61)
3: Mike Ross (Nathan White, 72)
4: Leo Cullen CAPTAIN
5: Brad Thorn (Devin Toner, 72)
6: Kevin McLaughlin
7: Dominic Ryan
8: Sean O’Brien (Shane Jennings, 61)
REFEREE: John Lacey (IRFU), ASSISTANT REFEREES: Peter Fitzgibbon, Olly Hodges (both IRFU), TMO: Peter Ferguson (IRFU).