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Dublin: 6°C Saturday 16 January 2021
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Leinster back to winning ways as Cullen's men notch bonus point against Ulster

Three second-half tries helped the home side to overturn a 9-5 deficit at the break.

Leinster 24

Ulster 12

LEO CULLEN’S LEINSTER got back to their bonus-point winning habits at the RDS – denying Ulster anything in the process – but this one was more hard-fought than some of the blowouts we’ve seen the eastern province enjoy over recent seasons.

It should prove a key victory in Conference A of the Guinness Pro14, with Leinster now within five points of the Ulster lead, with two games in hand still to play.

robbie-henshaw-scores-their-third-try-despite-eric-osullivan Robbie Henshaw scores Leinster's third try at the RDS. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Losing for the second time at home in a fortnight would have been unacceptable for this Leinster squad and they showed composure to overturn Ulster’s half-time lead and notch a fourth try inside the closing 10 minutes on a freezing night in Dublin.

Dan McFarland’s visitors were gritty and impressively led at the break even after Marcell Coetzee’s yellow card but ultimately they failed to deliver a try-scoring chance against a Leinster defence that did seem highly motivated following last weekend’s home defeat to Connacht.

Ulster only managed four penalties through the boot of John Cooney but Leinster dotted down four times, with the in-form Dave Kearney crossing in the first half before Sean Cronin, Robbie Henshaw and replacement hooker James Tracy scored in the second.

Among the positives for Leinster was a sharp return from right wing Jordan Larmour, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury in recent months.

Alongside him in the back three, the calm and composed fullback Hugo Keenan was named man of the match after a typically hard-working display. 

john-cooney-kicks-a-penalty Ulster led 9-5 at half time after John Cooney kicked three penalties. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ulster dominated the early possession as Leinster’s defence started well, with Cooney first onto the scoresheet with a 15th-minute penalty conceded by James Ryan.

Leinster were finally sparked into life in attack by Ross Byrne, wearing the number 13 shirt but playing at inside centre, who broke and offloaded to Henshaw soon before Coetzee gave up a high tackle penalty.

Leinster went into the left corner and hooker Cronin went close as he broke off the five-metre. He fellow forwards hammered at the tryline until scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park threw an excellent long miss pass to Dave Kearney close to the left touchline for the wing to finish superbly through Matt Faddes and Billy Burns.

With Kearney’s deft finish confirmed via a TMO review, Johnny Sexton missed off the tee from wide out, having earlier missed a penalty shot to the right of the posts. 

Ulster’s task looked to have become all the trickier on the half-hour mark as Coetzee was sin-binned for a high tackle on Cronin, but McFarland’s men responded strongly and won the closing 10 minutes of the half 6-0.

dave-kearney-scores-their-first-try-despite-matt-faddes Dave Kearney's superb finish gave Ulster their first try. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

First, Cooney slotted three points in between turnover penalties from James Hume and Jordi Murphy and then he was on target with the last act of the first half after Leinster went off their feet at the breakdown. 

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Ulster led 9-5 at the break but Leinster needed just over three minutes of the second half to nudge back in front, two penalty concessions from the visitors allowing Cullen’s men into the left corner again and this time, their maul firing up and Cronin dotting down, allowing Sexton to convert.

Ulster’s Hume managed to hold up Larmour over their tryline as the game entered the final half hour, the returning right wing’s surge coming just after impressive fullback Keenan had gone close. 

But Leinster weren’t to be denied from the ensuing five-metre scrum as Henshaw burst through Cooney’s tackle attempt to finish powerfully, with Sexton converting for 17-9.

The home team were in control and linebreaks from Cronin, Caelan Doris, Larmour, and Sexton followed as they searched for the bonus-point try.

rhys-ruddock-in-a-line-out Rhys Ruddock claims a lineout for Leinster. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

But Ulster dug in once again and took advantage of a couple of lineout wobbles from Leinster to regain some territory, winning another penalty that Cooney slotted from the right of the posts and nearly 40 metres out to bring his side back to within five points with just 10 minutes left to play.

Leinster steadied themselves as Ulster’s discipline continued to cause them problems and their fourth score arrived via the maul, with Tracy touching down at the tail and Byrne converting this time. 

Leinster then delivered more defensive quality to shut out Ulster in the final minute of the game, denying them what might have been a valuable losing bonus point.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Dave Kearney, Sean Cronin, Robbie Henshaw, James Tracy

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [1 from 3], Ross Byrne [1 from 1]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [0 from 1]

Ulster scorers:

Penalties: John Cooney [4 from 4]

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Ross Byrne, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney (Jimmy O’Brien ’79); Johnny Sexton (captain), Jamison Gibson-Park (Luke McGrath ’61); Cian Healy (Ed Byrne ’57), Seán Cronin (James Tracy ’57), Andrew Porter (Michael Bent ’67); Scott Fardy (Ross Molony ’67), James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock (Jack Conan ’63), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Harry Byrne.

ULSTER: Michael Lowry; Matt Faddes (Ben Moxham ’57), James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy; Billy Burns (Ian Madigan ’64), John Cooney (David Shanahan ’77); Andrew Warwick (Eric O’Sullivan ’51)), Rob Herring (John Andrew ’63), Marty Moore (Tom O’Toole ’7); Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter (captain) (Kieran Treadwell ’51); Greg Jones (Nick Timoney ’49), Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee (yellow card ’30).

Referee: Andrew Brace [IRFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from the RDS

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