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Dublin: 11°C Thursday 6 May 2021

Six-try Leinster make light work of Ulster in facile inter-pro victory

Leo Cullen’s much-changed side got back to winning ways to extend their lead at the top of Conference B.

Leinster 40

Ulster 7

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS 

LESS AN INTER-PRO derby, more a phoney war. 

This was as uncomplicated, and sweat-free, a victory Leinster are likely to enjoy all season, as Leo Cullen’s much-changed side once again exposed the glaring gulf in quality and resources between these two provinces without ever really getting out of first gear.

In dispatching a youthful team down south for this assignment, Ulster’s task was always unenviable but, even still, Dan McFarland’s charges made it far too easy for the defending Pro14 champions in front of a near-capacity RDS crowd.

Sean Cronin celebrates scoring a try with Jamison Gibson-Park Leinster bounced back from last week's defeat to Munster. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

From the moment Sean Cronin barrelled his way over inside the opening five minutes, there was an inevitability about how this game would play out, and Leinster — themselves fielding a largely second-string selection — were comfortably home and hosed by the break, as they made light work of their northern visitors.

Cronin was outstanding during a typically all-action display and the hooker’s first-half brace of tries set the hosts on their way, while Conor O’Brien, again excellent in the Leinster midfield and deservedly named man of the match, embellished his evening with a fine individual score.

Andrew Porter and Jamison Gibson-Park also crossed, before the win was rounded off with a late penalty try.

The eastern province dominated in all facets from start to finish, enjoying large tracts of possession and territory, and once they had converted those first-half chances, the second stanza was nothing more than a gentle defence-versus-attack training exercise.

Leinster’s attacking prowess, even in making 14 changes in personnel, is well-known and they displayed that clinical edge for much of the evening here, although will be frustrated that their second-half efforts yielded just two further tries.

Impressive, too, was the home side’s defence of space and aggressive line speed, which suffocated Ulster and this bonus-point win extends their lead at the top of Conference B to a commanding 19 points.

It sets Cullen’s side up nicely for next week’s crunch European showdown with Toulouse, with Cronin and the returning duo of Rob Kearney and Jack McGrath getting valuable minutes under their belt.

19-year-old Scott Penny stood out again for his tireless work-rate on both sides of the ball, as he made 19 tackles and carried seven times across 44 metres. Max Deegan seized his chance at number eight, Ciaran Frawley pulled the strings behind a dominant pack and Adam Byrne did his chances of starting on the wing against Toulouse no harm with a lively display. 

For Ulster, who slip down to fourth in Conference B, it was another disappointing trip to Dublin, with McFarland’s side now winless in their last nine away Irish derby fixtures, having also suffered defeat in Galway last week.

The writing was on the wall from early on here. Leinster were quickly into their stride, retaining the ball brilliantly and seizing the ascendancy from the outset. Lovely hands from Gibson-Park and Cronin released Adam Byrne down the shortside, after Matt Dalton was penalised early for not rolling away.

Sean Cronin on his way to scoring a try Cronin's first-half brace sent Leinster on their way. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The hosts’ multi-phase play was a joy, and their patience and accuracy made the breakthrough score inevitable. It arrived after over 20 phases of relentless pressure, Porter bringing them within striking distance with a meaty carry and Cronin rode the tackle to burst over. 

The second, although finished by the rampaging Cronin in similiar fashion, was even better. Max Deegan acted as the playmaker at the base of a midfield scrum, Frawley delayed the pass left to Kearney, and Leinster were in full flight again.

Ulster, to their credit, scrambled admirably but were unable to withstand another thunderous onslaught, as the blue shirts recycled furiously and O’Brien and Gibson-Park combined to send Cronin bursting through the attempted tackles of Dave Shanahan and Michael Lowry for the hooker’s eighth try of the season. 

The visitors played some excellent heads-up rugby when in possession, showing good ambition while their forwards produced impressive ball skills around the fringes.

Their defence, however, left a lot to be desired. Having found the perfect response through Adam McBurney’s powerful finish off a lineout maul, Ulster were back under their sticks within a minute.

Frawley’s short restart was tapped back brilliantly by Kearney to Deegan, and quick and clean ball allowed Gibson-Park spread it left through the hands for O’Brien. Space opened up on the outside for the centre, but he should never have been granted a route to the line, as four Ulster defenders slipped off attempted tackles.

It was a fine score from the 22-year-old, who continued his prolific try-scoring record with his fourth in five starts for the eastern province this term, and the home side wrapped up the bonus-point in the final act of the first stanza.

Noel Reid set the wheels in motion with a nice show and go, as Leinster moved the ball quickly and changed the point of attack seamlessly to probe around the outside channels of Ulster’s vulnerable rearguard.

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After Andrew Brace caught the white shirts offside, Frawley opted for the corner and Josh Murphy safely pouched Cronin’s lineout, for the Leinster forwards to crank the rolling maul into full gear as the clock turned red. 

Conor O'Brien scores their third try O'Brien goes over for his fourth try of the season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ulster, desperately hanging on, eventually yielded to the incessant pressure on their line, as Leinster kept it tight and after a passage of pick and jam rugby, Porter burrowed his way over the whitewash, with Frawley tacking on the extras for a commanding, and unassailable, 26-7 half-time lead.

The second period was a fractured affair as both sets of replacement benches were unloaded at various junctures, and the game — albeit over as a contest — was punctuated by a series of mistakes and stoppages.

Leinster were denied a fifth try after Cronin brilliantly drew in a number of white shirts before releasing teenager Penny, who made a blistering break up to the Ulster five-metre line, only to lose the ball forward as he looked to present cleanly for the support runners.

There was more frustration for the home side as they became sloppy in their execution, with O’Brien guilty of losing the ball on the floor after running a fantastic line to break Ulster’s initial rearguard action. 

Despite their dominance of the possession and territory stakes, it took Leinster 22 minutes of the second half to add to their tally on the scoreboard, as Gibson-Park sniped over after a series of attacking set-pieces. 

Cullen used the opportunity to hand the likes of Jimmy O’Brien, Hugh O’Sullivan and Caelan Doris more senior minutes, while Lansdowne lock Oisin Dowling was introduced for his senior debut for the final 12 minutes, before Leinster bullied their way towards the line for a penalty try for their sixth score.

As easy as you like.

There was a lot to like about this Leinster performance, and plenty of encouraging individual cameos within the collective, but we’ll see a very different side take to the field for the much tougher proposition against Toulouse here next week. 

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Sean Cronin [2], Conor O’Brien, Andrew Porter, Jamison Gibson-Park, penalty try. 
Conversions: Ciaran Frawley [4 from 5].

Ulster scorers:

Tries: Adam McBurney.
Conversions: Johnny McPhillips [1 from 1].
Penalties: Johnny McPhillips [0 from 1].

LEINSTER: 15. Rob Kearney (captain) (Jimmy O’Brien 64′), 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Conor O’Brien, 12. Noel Reid, 11. Barry Daly, 10. Ciaran Frawley, 9. Jamison Gibson-Park (Hugh O’Sullivan 64′); 1. Jack McGrath (Ed Byrne 51′), 2. Sean Cronin (James Tracy 51′), 3. Andrew Porter (Michael Bent 51′), 4. Ross Molony (Oisin Dowling 69′), 5. Mick Kearney, 6. Josh Murphy (Caelan Doris 64′), 7. Scott Penny, 8. Max Deegan.

Replacements not used: 22. Ross Byrne.

ULSTER: 15. Michael Lowry (Peter Nelson 17′), 14. Rob Lyttle, 13. Darren Cave, 12. James Hume, 11. Angus Kernohan (Bruce Houston 49′), 10. Johnny McPhillips, 9. Dave Shanahan (Jonny Stewart 72′); 1. Kyle McCall (Andrew Warwick 49′), 2. Adam McBurney (John Andrew 51′), 3. Wiehahn Herbst (Tom O’Toole 40′), 4. Matthew Dalton, 5. Alan O’Connor (captain) (Caleb Montogmery 678′), 6. Greg Jones, 7. Sean Reidy (Clive Ross 58′), 8. Nick Timoney.

Referee: Andrew Brace [IRFU]

Attendance: 18,099. 

Gavan Casey, Murray Kinsella and Andy Dunne preview the weekend’s action:

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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