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Bonus points all round as Leinster and Ulster share 14 tries

Eight of them belonged to Leinster as they extended their winning run and their lead at the top of Pro14 Conference B.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Leinster 54

Ulster 42

IT WAS HARD to escape the Christmas party feeling around Ballsbridge, or even on the pitch at the RDS as provinces east and north shared 14 tries and two bonus points.

In a test of resources and depth, Leinster will always prove a tough nut to crack open. And when, in this time for giving, the new-look sides show plenty of creative license in their defensive patterns the high-tempo expansive attack ensured the home side kept the scoreboard ticking inexorably upward.

In what under normal circumstances may have been billed as a top-of-the-table derby clash, Leinster powered their way to a bonus point inside 28 minutes to comfortably extend their lead in Conference A. And yet Ulster will leave with plenty to be pleased about too as they grabbed a try-scoring bonus point and finished strong while scoring an improbable sixth.

With the blue collective putting the result in no doubt from that early, inter-pro night was more about the individual displays. Harry Byrne played a key role in making Leinster’s attack function smoothly as they picked off chance after chance. The younger 10 in his homestead nailed seven of eight conversions attempts. A good night for kickers, his opposite number Bill Johnston slotted all six of his attempts.

Cian Kelleher was in electric form and looked extremely hungry for work as he provided the break before his side’s opening two scores and showed his top-line pace to add one of his own in the second half.

While Roman Solonoa and Ethan McIlroy came off the bench to win first Leinster and Ulster caps respectively, Tommy O’Brien was the pick of the debutants as he linked with Kelleher early and continually threatened the line in attack.

Sean Cronin made his return from a neck injury and looked in fine form as he added his power to get the hosts in the early ascendancy. Rob Kearney grabbed himself a try in the week he was dropped from the Ireland setup, but a match this loose is certainly not suited to his skill-set.

ave-shanahan-and-craig-gilroy-celebrate-angus-kernohan-scoring-their-first-try Ulster celebrate their opening try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The season of goodwill manifested itself pre-match in the raft of changes Ulster made to draw a clear line between their in-form European front-liners and those hoping to make their way up the depth chart in matches such as this.

And although there was a promising spell for Ulster when they drew level at seven apiece thanks to Angus Kernohan’s darting run in to the left corner thanks to Rob Lyttle’s stretching bounce pass, the writing was on the wall early.

The game was just three minutes old when debutant centre O’Brien slipped Kelleher through a gap to break into the Ulster 22. The blue pack relished the chance to go to work from there and forced the opening for Max Deegan to plant down his finish under the posts.

That same combination delivered the opening for the home side’s second try too. This time O’Brien took advantage when Angus Curtis shot up on the left side of the 22, lofting a fine pass to Kelleher who powered and jinked before a third defender stalled his progress. Scott Penny applied the finish on that occasion and did so again five minutes later as the blues flowed through an extended set of phases while Lyttle was nursing an elbow injury prior to being replaced by teenage debutant McIlroy and Matt Faddes was in the sin-bin for a high contact on O’Brien.

By the time the Kiwi returned, Leisnter had the bonus point sealed thanks to another seamless set culminating in a deft cross-field kick from Harry Byrne that found Robbie Henshaw perfectly in his stride.

Byrne played a telling role in Leinster’s fifth of the half too, jinking cleverly through contact and tossing up the Cronin to take on before Fergus McFadden rung up the 33-14 half-time scoreline.

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tommy-obrien Tommy O'Brien flings a pass wide. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Like all Christmas parties the fun fizzled out of this one as it wore on and the excesses were revealed on the scoreboard.

Kearney got over before McFadden unveiled a new party trick: sending a penalty kick Danny Cipriani-style flat across the field to give Kelleher a chance to scorch in beyond David O’Connor.

Ulster playmaker Angus Curtis suffered a sickening injury while attempting a carry in heavy traffic and so an already makeshift Ulster side looking towards finishing the game with flanker Nick Timoney manning the wing and Kernohan in the centre.

Perhaps the change-up focused the mind in way. Because they will head back up the M1 with a try-scoring bonus point to show for their efforts.

Dan McFarland’s men, forever intent on digging something out of a game, grabbed tries through Craig Gilroy, a brace from Greg Jones and a last-gasp score from Johnny Stewart as the patched-up visitors wound up finishing the stronger.

Scorers

Leinster

Tries: M Deegan (2), S Penny (2) R Henshaw, F McFadden, R Kearney C Kelleher

Conversion: H Byrne (7/8)

Ulster

Tries: A Kernohan, M Faddes, C Gilroy, G Jones (2), J Stewart

Conversions: B Johnston (6/6)

Leinster:  Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden,  Tommy O’Brien (Ciarán Frawley ’70),  Robbie Henshaw (Conor O’Brien ’61), Cian Kelleher, Harry Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park (Hugh O’Sullivan ’65): Peter Dooley (Cian Healy ’50),  Seán Cronin (Bryan Byrne ’56),  Andrew Porter (Roman Salanoa ’56),  Scott Fardy (Oisin Dowling ’56), Josh Murphy,  Will Connors (Josh Van der Flier ’50) , Scott Penny, Max Deegan.

Ulster:  Rob Lyttle (Ethan McIlroy ’25)   Craig Gilroy, Matt Faddes (Stewart Moore ’50),  Angus Curtis (Azur Allison ’52),  Angus Kernohan,  Bill Johnston, David Shanahan (Johnny Stewart ’72): Andrew Warwick  (Kyle McCall ’57),  Adam McBurney (John Andrew ’56),   Tom O’Toole (Ross Kane ’57),   David O’Connor,  Alan O’Connor (Jack Regan ’70) , Matty Rea, Nick Timoney, Greg Jones

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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