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‘That’s what rugby’s about’: Ulster resistance proves a match for Leinster's big finish

The northern province were made to work overtime for their first away win over Leinster this century.

Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

A TRULY INCREDIBLE finish to a pulsating encounter.

Ulster held on grimly with an 18 – 22 lead as Leinster pounded and pounded far beyond the 80 minute mark.

For a side without a win in five, and without a win away to Leinster since August 1999, Mark Anscombe’s men looked strangely composed in the heat of battle.

The composure disappeared as arms flailed with 13 and a half years of pent up celebration at George Clancy’s final whistle – though, bizarrely the Limerick referee would then call for a TMO to judge Sean Cronin’s late effort after he had called time.

“There are a lot of sore bodies,” Anscombe said of his men’s Alamo impression in the final minutes.

“There’s a few guys down there putting it as one of the hardest games they’ve ever played in. They’re sore, but that’s what rugby’s about; good tough games.

“You’re meant to be sore after it, then you can enjoy your lie in tomorrow morning and read the paper with a smile on your face knowing you’ve had a hard day’s work and you’ve achieved what you set out to do.”

In truth, the visitors were not forced out of their game-plan often, yet had to claw back a seven-point deficit to record the overdue win.

The scores were all about four at the break: Four Ian Madigan penalties from four attempts gave Leinster a four-point lead from a period in which they spent the vast majority of time defending.

Ulster’s attack was positive, going side to side in search of gaps and, indeed, finding them through the dancing feet of Stuart Olding, Craig Gilroy and the consistent striking power of Andrew Trimble.

Their downfall playing into the wind with ball in hand was the breakdown. Time after time the referee’s arm went against them giving Leinster four scores to two.

Absorb and punish

The second half would reverse the fortunes. 12, and then, 15 – 8 down, it was Ulster who began to absorb pressure and punish clinically at the other end.

Slowly, but surely, the screw turned. Ruan Pienaar struck twice from distance and even the breakdown started to flow their way before Paddy Jackson pulled the strings of a sweeping attack. A move which ended with Iain Henderson profiting from Madigan’s concentration lapse by the corner flag.

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From there, the home side were swimming against the tide. Ulster’s back-line consistently came up with the answers to all-too simple questions from Leinster. With the planned centres for the night taken ill, the European Champions’ tactics turned into one crash-ball after another.

Still, it required an almighty effort from the visitors to withstand over eight minutes of relentless late pressure. It’s hard to picture another side coping as Ulster did.

The crowd on the south stand swelled with fans flowing in from less enviable positions. But from Craig Gilroy’s trademark try-saving rush to Kyle McCall’s thigh keeping the ball off the line, Ulster dug deep to ensure they were good value for all four points.

Understandably, that was what seemed to impress  Anscombe most of all:

“It’s the big games where the character of the individual comes through and I thought we saw bucketloads of that out there tonight.”

His opposite number meanwhile, lamented a side that left too much to do with too little time on the clock.

“We’re a little bit disappointed,” said Joe Schmidt. “It was a little bit flat, we were a little bit passive and they probably got the better of us physically. It’s the second week in a row, to be honest. I think Glasgow did a bit of the same last week.

‘By the scruff’

“If we have to go behind on the scoreboard to get a reaction, I think that’s a dangerous place to be in. We’ve got to be proactive about going out and taking the game by the scruff of the neck.

“It was difficult; we were trying to operate off a fair bit of slow ball. Intermittently we got a bit of quick ball but it was never really consistently quick.”

As if taking a back seat on Heineken Cup weekend wasn’t bad enough, Leinster had to cede the plaudits and a temporary home quarter-final berth to their guests from the north.

Both sides left the RDS sore, but bodies heal fast.

Pro12 report: Ulster ‘back on track’ but Schmidt fumes over penalty try denials

As it happened: Leinster v Ulster, RaboDirect Pro12

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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