Leinster had a day to forget at Kingspan Stadium as they fell to a heavy GUINNESS PRO12 defeat at the hands of provincial rivals Ulster…
Paddy Jackson was in inspirational form as he led Ulster to a vital win in their bid to reach the play-offs. Leinster are already through to the last-four and can still secure a home semi-final when they entertain Benetton Treviso in next Saturday’s final round – new leaders Glasgow Warriors (71 points) and second-placed Connacht (69) meet at the same time.
However, Leo Cullen’s men, who are now third in the table on 68 points, will need to lift their performance level a number of notches after a lacklustre display in today’s interprovincial derby during which they had two yellow cards and leaked three tries.
Jackson’s 78th-minute intercept try condemned the visitors to a 24-point loss, adding to a first half penalty try and a Jared Payne effort in the 57th minute. Two penalties from Jonathan Sexton meant Leinster were only 10-6 behind at the break, but Ulster amassed 20 points without reply in a one-sided second period.
Solid Leinster defence early on in Belfast prevented Ulster from making a breakthrough, with both sets of half-backs kicking astutely.
The lively Andrew Trimble was obstructed by Luke McGrath as he chased a kick in midfield, the resulting penalty allowing Jackson to open the scoring in the 11th minute.
A lovely move involving Dave Kearney, who was making his 100th Leinster appearance, and Rhys Ruddock launched the Blues down the left wing at pace, however a subsequent knock-on from Tadhg Furlong halted the visitors’ progress.
After the Ulster backs threatened again, Leinster suffered a double setback in the 18th minute when full-back Rob Kearney was sin-binned for taking out man-of-the-match Ruan Pienaar as he chased his own chip in the 22. Referee George Clancy and TMO Seamus Flannery decided a try would have been scored, so a penalty try was awarded with Jackson converting for 10-0.
Leinster managed to negotiate the rest of the sin-bin period in good fettle, retaining possession well, scrummaging effectively and forcing a series of penalties, the last of which saw Sexton expertly open his account from the right wing.
Kearney returned to the pitch, tidying up in defence as Ulster pressed once more on the left hand side, and a high tackle on the increasingly influential Josh van der Flier allowed Sexton to make it 10-6 with a well-struck 44-metre effort.
A knock-on from Hayden Triggs ended a promising late assault deep in the Ulster 22, but the Leinster back-line were quick to turn defence into attack on the resumption, with Ben Te’o carrying more of a threat.
The Leinster scrum was in the ascendancy, their maul winning another penalty as Kiwi lock Triggs controlled at the base, however a second promising maul was spoiled by a fumble.
Ulster bounced back, Pienaar probing with a quickly-taken kick and Stuart McCloskey offloading to the onrushing Rory Scholes, with replacement Luke Fitzgerald seeing yellow for a ‘cynical’ pull-back and Jackson splitting the posts with 54 minutes on the clock.
Barely four minutes later, Ulster’s lead was out to 14 points, Jackson luring in a couple of defenders in front of the posts and brilliantly releasing Luke Marshall who put full-back Payne over on the left. Jackson converted to widen the margin to 20-6.
Mick Kearney and Mike Ross made a good impact off the bench, but Ulster, with only one win in their last seven PRO12 clashes with Leinster, were determined to see out the result. A further penalty from Jackson and that intercept score – via an Eoin Reddan pass on the Ulster 22-metre line – sealed a big win for Les Kiss’ fourth-placed side.
ULSTER SCORERS: Penalty try, J. Payne (1 try), P. Jackson (1 try, 2 conversions and 3 penalties), P. Marshall (1 conversion)
LEINSTER SCORERS: J. Sexton (2 penalties)
ULSTER: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Callum Black, Rory Best CAPTAIN, Ricky Lutton, Peter Browne, Franco van der Merwe, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Sean Reidy.
REPLACEMENTS: Rob Herring, Kyle McCall, Andrew Warwick, Robbie Diack, Roger Wilson, Paul Marshall, Stuart Olding, Darren Cave.
15. Rob Kearney
14. Isa Nacewa CAPTAIN
13. Garry Ringrose (Luke Fitzgerald, 50)
12. Ben Te’o
11. Dave Kearney (Ian Madigan, 71)
10. Jonathan Sexton
9. Luke McGrath (Eoin Reddan, 50)
1. Jack McGrath (Peter Dooley, 69)
2. Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin, 13-18; 50)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Mike Ross, 50)
4. Devin Toner
5. Hayden Triggs (Mike Kearney, 52)
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Josh van der Flier (Jordi Murphy, half-time)
8. Jamie Heaslip
REFEREE: George Clancy (IRFU); ASSISTANT REFEREES: Sean Gallagher, Leo Colgan (both IRFU); CITING COMMISSIONER: Eddie Walsh (IRFU); TMO: Seamus Flannery (IRFU).