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Ulster record their first away win over Leinster in eight years after tense finish at the RDS

Ulster won 20-10 in the URC tonight.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO



Garry Doyle at the RDS

HOW OFTEN HAVE we seen them let a chance like this slip? How often have we written about unfulfilled potential and the fact Leinster lived rent free in their heads?

This time they got it right. Their set-piece, their defence – most of all their defence – and their work at the breakdown was exemplary. So too was their willingness to stay calm when things didn’t go their way. By half-time, Ulster held just a 7-0 lead, leaving at least 13 points behind them, John Cooney missing two kicks, his backline colleagues missing a succession of chances.

Then, when Leinster recovered to level things by the midway point of the second half, you half-suspected Leo Cullen’s team to do what they normally do.

But this time was different. Rather than fold, Ulster regrouped, producing a steely performance in the final quarter to seal the deal, Nathan Doak defying his tender years to land a critical penalty to restore Ulster’s lead before James Hume stole Tommy O’Brien’s pass to canter clear in the final minute.

And that was that.

If you didn’t see it coming, well perhaps you weren’t looking closely enough. All season, Ulster have played well in patches but have spoiled their good work with periods of sloppiness. This time they got it right.

Few expected much from them – not just because of their appalling record against Leinster, more because of their shocking show against Connacht when they were last in Dublin, five weeks ago. This time was different, though. Their set-piece was good, their ability to decode Leinster’s line-out even better.

Many more boxes were ticked. Their line-speed in defence was sharp, their ball retention tidy, their ambition unquestioned. Three times in the opening seven minutes they won penalties within Cooney’s range. Each time they opted instead to go to the corner.

Leinster survived, not just because of their good work, but also because Ulster failed to put enough variety to their attacks. It was one-off runner after one-off runner. Worse again, everyone in the RDS could read their plans to unleash Stuart McCloskey. Certainly Leinster had their homework done.

The champions remained organised and connected through a 17-phase attack that should have yielded a score for Ulster. Instead of getting one, they turned down the chance to go for the posts.

You could understand why. Rob Herring was on song with his throws, Alan O’Connor and Sam Carter reaching high into the Dublin sky to connect with him. Ulster’s maul made yards in these early stages, just not enough of them.

The visitors stayed on the front foot. Luke McGrath’s tackle on Billy Burns on the tryline was extraordinary, James Tracy adding an extra pair of hands to keep out the Ulster out-half. Later Ross Molony stopped Carter in his tracks. The visitors were getting frustrated.

But they were also inching closer, realising the value of adding subtlety to their attacks. Finally, they got across when another line-out led to the opening try on 16 minutes, one that stemmed from smarter decoy runs, from resisting the temptation to go to McCloskey too early.

The opening try eventually came off a superb carry from James Hume out wide, as the centre got outside Larmour before Greg Jones followed up to supply the finishing touches. Yet there wouldn’t have been that space for Hume, that chance for Jones, had Ulster’s two props, Marty Moore and Eric O’Sullivan not carried with such intent earlier in the move, Moore’s pass inside to Carter a reminder of his undervalued footballing skills.

Leading by seven, Ulster continued to attack and had a two-on-one overlap out wide from their fourth visit to the Leinster 22 in the opening quarter and would have left there with points had Ethan McIlroy hugged the touchline.

Leinster escaped. They weren’t doing much else, though. It took half an hour before their line-out began to function, took them a few minutes more to come to terms with Dan Leavy’s withdrawal with injury on 21 minutes.

dan-leavy-goes-for-a-hia Dan Leavy leaves his field with an injury. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Yet they still made an impression towards the end of that first half. There were a couple of decent breaks – one by Ciaran Frawley that should have yielded a penalty when Craig Gilroy impeded his path, another by Jimmy O’Brien that saw space open up on the Leinster wing.

Ulster’s scramble defence was decent, however, and their breakdown work exceptional, Nick Timoney getting a gold star for his efforts.

By half-time it was 7-0 – Cooney missing a penalty from out wide. But he made amends shortly after the break. At 10-0, you knew Ulster were not going to go away quietly. But Leinster hit back, Robbie Henshaw getting across the line with a brave, opportunist effort, Ross Byrne adding the conversion and also a penalty.

Now we were in the final quarter. Surely Leinster would see this out? Well, no. Ulster were calm. Their fitness held up. Best of all, Hume held onto O’Brien’s pass to run clear and get the score that sealed the deal … and their first win in Dublin over Leinster since 2013.




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Tries: Henshaw

Conversions: R Byrne (1/1)

Penalties: R Byrne (1/1)


Tries: Jones, Hume

Conversions: Cooney (1/1) Doak (1/1)

Penalties: Cooney (1/3) Doak (1/1)

Leinster Rugby: Jimmy O’Brien, Adam Byrne, Robbie Henshaw, Ciarán Frawley, Jordan Larmour (rep: Tommy O’Brien ’71), Ross Byrne (rep: Harry Byrne ’65), Luke McGrath (rep: Nick McCarthy ’65), Ed Byrne (rep: Peter Dooley ’51), James Tracy (rep: Sean Cronin ’51), Tadhg Furlong (rep: Vakh Abdaladze ’68), Ross Molony, Devin Toner, Dan Leavy, Scott Penny, Rhys Ruddock (rep: Will Connors ’59)

Ulster Rugby: Mike Lowry (rep: Rob Lyttle ’52), Craig Gilroy, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney (rep: Nathan Doak ’53), Andrew Warwick (rep: Eric O’Sullivan ’45), Rob Herring, Marty Moore (rep: Ross Kane ’71), Alan O’Connor (Capt.), Sam Carter (rep: Mick Kearney ’45), Greg Jones (rep Marcus Rea ’21), Nick Timoney, David McCann.

Replacements not used: Tom Stewart, Angus Curtis,

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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