JAMIE HEASLIP PRAISED the collective drive of his Leinster side after last night’s 13 – 9 victory over Ulster in the Pro12 semi-final in the RDS.
The eastern province scored 13 unanswered points in the final 23 minutes of the inter-provincial clash, but as Heaslip points out, were it not for the influence of forwards such as Sean O’Brien, Leo Cullen and Mike Ross coming off the bench, then it could have easily been a different outcome.
“The standard didn’t drop when any of our subs came on,” said Heaslip, metaphorically patting his players on the back as he continued with a puff of his cheeks:
“Ian Madigan’s try, all the forwards were on for that scrum [on 78 minutes] in the corner where we pushed them back and got a penalty. The guys who weren’t in the squad were repping Ulster during the week, giving us a lot of confidence in defence by repping their patterns.
“I’m pretty proud of the effort, but we’re realistic and know that’s not going to be good enough. We have to up our standard [against Glasgow].”
The reigning champions had trailed 9 – 0 after 55 minutes of the encounter, and with Brian O’Driscoll lost to concussion, Leinster were in danger of becoming the first home team to ever lose a semi-final in this competition.
“I think we only got into the 22 with the ball twice in the first half,” said Heaslip, desperately attempting to force some sugar into his body to lay a platform for recovery.
“We turned over some balls at line-outs in between the 10 [metre lines] – a good launching area, but you turn it over and you’re back down in your half defending. It just seemed like we couldn’t get a foothold in their half.”
For all Ulster’s possession, however, they would still be within a single score of Leinster at the break. And with Gordon D’Arcy soon to return from his inexcusable yellow card, there had long been an ominous sense that the northern province had not fully cashed in on their early dominance. The nous of having been there and done that before would soon reel them in.
“I thought we were quite comfortable in defence,” said the number eight, referring to the angle tackles were being taken on as opposed to the number or ferocity required.
“To give a side like Ulster a nine-point head start is not the smartest thing to do. We regrouped at the tail end, despite being down to 14 men, of the first half.
“We came out and focused on ourselves, ball focus, good barrels at the ruck, produced a lot of quick ball and I think we caused them a lot of problems then in the second half and got a lot of gainline.”
“We’ve been behind in big games or going into the last quarter of a game. We have a good belief in the squad. We know from the stats that we score a lot of points in the last 20 minutes of a game, so we had that belief in ourselves that if we could hang onto the ball and went through phases then we could cause them problems and I think we did.
“We’ve a very experienced group of players who have been through games like that where sometimes it just doesn’t go well. You just roll up your sleeves, grind it out and that’s what we did.”