Leo Cullen’s first game as Leinster head coach ended in victory as his side rallied from a 14-5 half-time deficit to beat Ulster 24-21 in an entertaining pre-season friendly at Kingspan Stadium…
The Leinster forwards paved the way for the win with a powerful second half display that yielded three tries from recent Ireland debutant Jack Conan, Dan Leavy and Bryan Byrne.
The visitors, wearing their white alternate kit, took the lead after five minutes with a try from Ireland Sevens international Adam Byrne. Prop Jamie Hagan punched a hole in the home defence, his front row colleague Peter Dooley drove close to the line before the ball was spun out to the left wing for Byrne to go over in the corner. Cathal Marsh was unable to convert.
Leo Cullen's young side should have increased their lead when centre Ben Te'o ran a great line to open up the Ulster midfield. He offloaded to Darragh Fanning who took the ball deep into the 22 before flicking it to full-back Billy Dardis, but he was stopped close to the line.
Ulster got their first points on 32 minutes when scrum half Paul Marshall caught the visiting defence napping when he darted over from the 22 after a quick tap penalty and Ian Humphreys converted.
The Ulstermen extended their lead two minutes later with a superb solo try from Ireland centre Luke Marshall. He picked up a loose ball on the 10-metre line and avoided some weak tackling to go all the way over. Humphreys' conversion made it 14-5 for half-time.
However, Leinster, with 14 personnel changes at the break, made the perfect start to the second period when Conan – with Ireland coaches Joe Schmidt, Les Kiss and Richie Murphy watching on – swiftly crossed the whitewash. The forwards powered their way into the Ulster 22 before Conan used his strength to barge over with 42 minutes on the clock. Steve Crosbie missed the conversion.
Ulster had replacement back rower Stephen Mulholland sin-binned on 45 minutes and Leinster took immediate advantage. They kicked the penalty to the corner and from the resulting lineout, they executed a prefect rolling maul to drive Leavy over and the returning Isa Nacewa, who was sprung from the bench, added the conversion.
With Mulholland still in the bin, Leinster got their fourth try on 53 minutes. Again they went to the corner from a penalty and this time it was replacement hooker Bryan Byrne that was propelled over the line and Nacewa added the extras for a 24-14 lead.
Ulster launched a late surge and with Crosbie in the sin-bin, they got in for a consolation try from Ireland Under-20 centre Sam Arnold which Sam Windsor converted.
REFEREE: Andy Brace (IRFU)