We’re going minute by minute from Ravenhill for tonight’s mouthwatering clash between last season’s finalists.
WITH ONLY TWO regular season Pro12 games remaining, what better way to kick start your long weekend than watching last season’s finalists look to lay down markers ahead of the knockout stage.
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Ulster 20 – 22 Leinster
Well, hello there rugby fans. I hope you’re sitting comfortably because this fixture has been circled in all our fixture lists for quite some time.
It’s an inter-pro, it’s first v fourth in the Pro12, a repeat of last year’s Grand Final and a chance for both sides to consolidate their positions in the playoff places.
Here’s the view from my seat in Ravenhill. A brass band has struck up, distracting everyone from the important business of warm-ups.
The band is the opening act of the Ravers’ big opening ceremony, tonight being the official unveiling of the redeveloped ground.
The band has moved its songsheet onto the page marked 21st century and they’ve only gone and got Sparky the Bear dancing along to Pharrell’s Happy.
I’m too far away to take a video that would do it justice, but we’ll just leave it up to your own imagination to as to how awesome it was.
Anyway, enough about the dancing mascot, we’re here for the rugby and so are these 46 men:
Ulster: Ricky Andrew, Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne, Luke Marshall, Tommy Bowe, Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Johann Muller (Captain), Iain Henderson, Roger Wilson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Niall Annett, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Dan Tuohy, Sean Doyle, Michael Heaney, James McKinney, Darren Cave.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Zane Kirchner, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney; Ian Madigan; Isaac Boss: Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Martin Moore: Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy; Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip. (Captain).
Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen, Jordi Murphy, Luke McGrath, Jimmy Gopperth, Brendan Macken
The PA calls out the teams with special lengthy introductions for both Brian O’Driscoll and Johann Muller. Not often BOD is overshadowed.
We’ve still got about 15 minutes before kick-off, so you can pass a wee bit of time with some of our articles looking ahead to this game.
First, up. Former Ulster fullback Adam D’Arcy whetted the appetite for Payne v O’Driscoll in the midfield tonight: ‘Payne can send a message to Schmidt by upstaging O’Driscoll at Ravenhill’
And here is Murray Kinsella’s big match preview:
Got all that? Good, now you can have a sneaky beer.
Ah, yes. After legends of Ulster rugby past and present were introduced to the crowd (Dr Jack Kyle receiving the largest ovation) both squads are currently getting pumped up in their in-goal areas while a lone singer in midfield … eh, belts out Danny Boy.
If this game has a slow start, I’m blaming that infernal song.
That’s a bit better. Johann Muller leads his team run into the dressing room as SUFTUM starts ringing around the ground.
I’m still of the opinion that crowds make much better atmospheres than these planned singalongs though.
Now that the players are off the field the mandatory fireworks can begin.
Probably best not to let this man see red too soon…
Right, the dancing is over, but the bear is back. Sparky is first onto the pitch with Johann Muller’s two kids, Anja and Juan.
Jamie Heaslip trundles down the path they made, but the crowd really gets involved when the the white shirts appear from the tunnel. Johann Muller running out for his 83rd Ulster cap and most likely his last at Ravenhill.
It can’t be understated the impact the Springbok has had on the culture at Ulster Rugby.
KICK OFF: In a cloud of smoke we’re under way, Paddy Jackson starting with a kick field by Heaslip on the 22.
A late hit on Madigan gave Leinster a deep penalty and they set up a decent platform in Ulster territory, but after moving the ball right, Luke Marshall delivered a big hit to stop the move and force the scrum.
Ooooh, the Leinster scrum claim first blood, Winning a penalty just inside the 10metre line and Madigan has an opportunity to open the scoring.
PENALTY: Ulster 0 Leinster 3 (Madigan ’6)
Ulster close to a breakthrough in midfield with a lovely step from Bowe. The pass doesn’t go to hand, though and off the scrum Leinster look threatening again.
Some big hits coming in from white jerseys. Roger Wilson getting away with a high tackle, but the next offence is punished and Madigan will have a mirror image of the penalty he converted minutes ago.
PENALTY: Ulster 0 Leinster 6 (Madigan ’12)
He does have a lovely kicking rhythm when he’s on form.
The penalties keep on coming against the hosts. Chris Henry is never afraid of treading a fine line and he’s done for not releasing five metres inside his own half.
Kick number three for ‘Mad Dog’…
Mad Dog just doesn’t have enough bite to land the 45 metre kick. Inches under the bar.
Oh, dear… Tom Court has lifted Devin Toner in the air. The ref will review this with the TMO. The prop definitely wasn’t able to control the second row once he was off the turf.
RED CARD: Tom Court is sent off after 16 minutes. Ulster down to 14 men yet again.
Tommy Bowe flung his water bottle at nobody in particular after the red card came out. It must be so frustrating for Ulster players, but they can’t feel quite as aggrieved about this decision as they did for Jared Payne’s early red a month ago.
The game is fully in Leinster’s hands now. They decline the posts with a penalty and head for the line-out and the pack takes little time to push over the try-line, but they’re held up.
Callum Black has come in the game for these scrums with Nick Williams rumbling off.
Somehow (as far as I could see, down to an illegal knock-on) Ulster do enough to disrupt the Leinster attack and the defence is able to scramble play as far as the 22 where they force panic in blue and a penalty.
Jackson kicks play into the Leinster half. Ulster have not spent nearly enough time there with 15 men, can they do it with one less?
Ravenhill is on its feet. Paddy Jackson has charged down his opposite number and stole a route to the try-line. He looks to have been taken really high before crashing into the corner flag.
The crowd want a red and a penalty try. The TMO just might let them have it….
YELLOW CARD: Rob Kearney.
TRY: Ulster 5 Leinster 6 (Jackson 24′)
The number 10 has to make do with a touchline conversion. He struck it beautifully but it just cuts outside the left hand post.
Ravenhill is going Radio Rental. Rhys Ruddock has taken Paddy Jackson out in the air and from our vantage point it’s a carbon copy of the Jared Payne incident.
A quick check with the TMO and it’s A YELLOW CARD.
This is an incredible game. Ulster suddenly have the man advantage and are camped on the Leinster line after a lovely grubber in behind forced Dave Kearney to carry over his own line.
After all that I very nearly forgot to update the score. That’s what this is all about, after all.
Leinster managed to scramble clear from their own line and you can almost hear their experienced head in midfield pull the team together and remind them how to make this game into a dogfight for the next 15 minutes.
Ah, brilliant again from Marshall timing his tackle on Kirchner perfectly to drive the Bok back after he fielded a high ball and his pack helped force a penalty.
Ulster lead, everybody!
PENALTY Ulster 8 Leinster 6 (Jackson ’33)
PENALTY: Ulster 8 Leinster 9 (Madigan ’35)
The sucker punch comes for Ulster. This topsy-turvy game just keeps on eh, topsing and turving.
Leinster are back to 15 and the attack is looking fluid (if aided by some very, very lazy runners). D’Arcy makes a big break as Leinster advance into the Ulster 22, but a brilliant piece of breakdown defence eases the pressure.
HALF TIME: Ulster 8 Leinster 9
Here’s Big Bob Kearney’s Big high tackle on Paddy Jackson.
How sloppy was Ian Madigan to get charged down here.
And here’s how Tom Court ended his game.
All 29 players are back on the field. And the second half is under way.
With Muller in that white pack there’s never any danger that efforts won’t be redoubled. Ulster take the early advantage in the physical stakes, forcing a scrum from a Leinster attack and clearing their lines.
Muller penalised for dragging down a Leinster maul and here’s a statement of Leinster realise they’re in a game. Madigan will kick at goal from 47-8 metres….. and he has caught it absolutely horribly and it’s cut wide.
Ever since that early physical marker I mentioned, Leinster’s pack has been the dominant force. Ulster never quite able to escape the final third after Madigan’s missed kick and after a brief set of scrums, Marty Moore is again on the right side of the referee’s interpretation.
Penalty Leinster, but AGAIN Madigan has mis-hit it wide.
16,950 in Ravenhill tonight. And every one of them fixated.
14 Leinster players are playing brilliant rugby. Ulster can’t get clear after the second missed penalty and the blue shirts set up base camp on the five metre line.
The home defence is putting in an incredible shift and Leinster are forced wide where Kirchner’s pass is just slightly ahead of Dave Kearney and the wing slips in to collect, but what looked a certain try has been passed up.
PENALTY: Ulster 8 Leinster 12 (Madigan ’53)
Madigan finds his rhythm again and Ulster finally get a chance to escape their 22 with a restart on halfway.
Big moments for Ulster now as Jackson drills a penalty to the touchline. The maul forms just as Luke Marshall runs off to be replaced by Darren Cave.
The ball shoots out of the maul, but Leinster have been penalised. Jackson can bring it back to a one-point game here.
PENALTY: Ulster 11 Leinster 12 (Jackson ’57)
TRY! Ulster 11 Leinster 19 (Jennings ‘ 58)
Aside from being down a man, Ulster are losing this game because Leinster are dealing with restarts so much better.
Bowe knocks on a difficult ball to take this time, but Leinster are vicious on the turnover ball and Kearney sneaks around the side of the ruck before sending Jennings on a clean run to the posts. Madigan can’t miss the conversion.
Leinster fancy they have this game won, and Matt O’Connor sends in a fleet of replacements, but Ulster’s own impact sub is Darren Cave and he makes a big break through the centre to cause a little bit of panic.
Cave was just a split second from passing to Bowe on a clear run, but he was wrapped up. And after one phase going wide, Ulster are wrapped up again in the tackle, illegally, and Jackson can reel the score in by three.
PENALTY: Ulster 14 Leinster 19 (Jackson ’67)
We were a little too choked up to type at the time, but Johann Muller has made his final bow in Belfast. A deserved standing ovation for the Springbook as he is replaced by Dan Tuohy.
Nick Williams is back in the game too with Roger Wilson holding his arm as he moves out of the firing line.
PENALTY: Ulster 14 Leinster 22 (Gopperth ’70)
Ulster playing only for a point now. Jackson attempts a drop-goal on a free play after Gopperth extended Leinster’s lead from distance. He missed the target but will come back to the tee.
PENALTY Ulster 17 Leinster 22 (Jackson ’72)
You really have to stand up and applaud Ulster, they refuse to lie down. They runble into Leinster territory and force another penalty.
PENALTY: Ulster 20 Leinster 22 (Jackson ‘ 77)
They just might win this y’know. It’s been that crazy of a game.
Scratch that. Leinster are in the process of killing this game, running the clock down and hoping to to force an error.
FULL TIME: Ulster 20 Leinster 22
That’s all from us, folks. Another incredibly effort from Ulster ends in defeat, but the losing bonus is enough to see them book a place in the playoffs.
We’ll have all the reaction from a tumultuous night in Ravenhill, but until we get chatting to the players and coaches, safe home.