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Leinster's Lions help turn the screw as spirited Ulster fall to another defeat

Tried from Jack Conan and Robbie Henshaw helped Leo Cullen’s side come from behind to win at the RDS.

Robbie Henshaw scored the decisive try against Ulster.
Robbie Henshaw scored the decisive try against Ulster.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Leinster 21
Ulster 17

Ciarán Kennedy reports from the RDS

HAVING BEEN BEATEN in their opening two games of the Rainbow Cup, this round three tie was about as inconsequential as an interpro derby could get for Dan McFarland’s Ulster team.

You’d never have known it.

At times here they were brilliant, attacking with intent and defending superbly against a Leinster team littered with international talent.

Yet in the end a lack of cutting edge cost them dearly. Some of the promising opportunities they managed to carve out were snuffed out by a ferocious Leinster defensive effort, but others slipped by with only themselves to blame. 

They started well, seeing plenty of the ball and playing with tempo, and should have taken an early lead. 

Ulster’s first sniff of the Leinster 22 saw Billy Burns misplace a pass, allowing the returning Jimmy O’Brien to boot the loose ball back into the Ulster half. A neat series of quick passes then saw Nick Timoney and Jacob Stockdale combine well to get Ulster within five metres of the Leinster line, only for Eric O’Sullivan to spill the ball and curse his luck. 

They kept at it. Stuart McCloskey – one of only three players retaining from last week’s defeat to Munster – made a big carry and popped a pass to Dave Shanahan, the scrum-half brought to ground just inches from the paint. 

Shanahan, making his first start of the season, was looking sharp, moving the ball with pace and purpose. So too was McCloskey, making good ground with every carry into contact.

Problem was, the clock was closing in on 20 minutes and Ulster had nothing to show for it. 

Then it happened. McCloskey took a chance and fired a huge pass out wide towards Stockdale. Dave Kearney also took a chance and stepped up on the intended target, but the Ulster fullback had the time to gather the ball and release Robert Baloucoune, who showed a sharp burst of pace to burn past O’Brien and dot down. Burns clipped over the conversion from the right touchline. Game on.

robert-baloucoune-is-tackled-by-jimmy-obrien Robert Baloucoune scored Ulster's opening try. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

There was a sense of inevitability about the next few minutes. Leinster moved into the Ulster 22 for the first time and got their power game going. It ended with Cian Healy powering over, with a little help from Caelan Doris, under the posts, and Garry Ringrose – on kicking duties ahead of out-half Ross Byrne – slotting one of the easiest conversions he’ll ever face. 

Leinster were level having hardly broken a sweat.

Ulster came again. Burns burst down the middle but Dave Kearney got across to make a great tackle. The ball moved left, where Baloucoune, almost standing still, was floored by a colossal hit from Robbie Henshaw, who took the longer of the two to get up and soon departed for a head injury assessment.

Ulster captain Iain Henderson called for a captain’s challenge. Referee Mike Adamson went to the pitchside screen for a second look and came to the conclusion that while Henshaw was high in the tackle, he didn’t make contact with Baloucoune’s head. No card was brandished. Henderson shook his head and made his unhappiness with the decision clear. 

The next phase of play saw Josh Murphy produce a brilliant turnover and Ulster came away empty-handed once more.

A neat one-two between Shanahan and James Hume kickstarted their next wave of pressure, but Doris – making his first appearance since January – eventually swooped in to win back possession.

Minutes later Doris relieved the pressure again with another turnover on half-way. With the clock in the red Leinster kicked for the corner, won the lineout and went on the hunt. O’Brien had a snipe but Ulster coughed up a penalty in hauling him to the floor. From the lineout Leinster moved the ball the width of the pitch, but a Larmour sidestep ended with the wing buried under a sea of Ulster bodies and the ball spilled loose. 

This time, it was Ulster who were let off the hook as Adamson called time on a breathless, often frantic opening half.

cian-healy-celebrates-scoring-a-try Cian Healy dotted down for Leinster. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

They had an early chance to move ahead following the break, but Burns pulled a long-range penalty wide. Another period of sustained pressure allowed him to rectify that from much more kickable range.

Leo Cullen decided to change things up. He sent in Jack Conan, and within a minute the recently-confirmed Lions tourist ran a sharp line to beat three defenders and score Leinster’s second try of the night. Ringrose converted, and you sensed Leinster were about to take things up a notch against a clearly tiring Ulster. 

Now it was the hosts enjoying all the territory, applying all the pressure.

Within 10 minutes they had extended their lead, and again their Lions were heavily involved. A well-executed Ross Byrne kick started a patient team move, which gained momentum with another big Conan carry, and Henshaw had the strength to apply the finishing touch from close range. Ringrose kicked his third conversion of the night and Ulster’s hopes crumbled.

They spent much of the final quarter camped in their own half, never quite looking like conceding again, but also never really looking capable of negotiating a way back into the contest as Leinster swarmed the breakdown and increased the tempo.

Against the run of play, Ulster managed to steal in for a another try via Craig Gilroy, raising the possibility of some late drama. It wasn’t to be.

They have now lost their last four games in all competitions and won just once on their last 19 visits to the RDS. Their effort couldn’t be faulted, but this was another reminder of just how difficult it can be to win here. 

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Tries Healy, Conan, Henshaw

Conversions Ringrose (3/3)


Tries Baloucoune, Gilroy 

Conversions Burns (1/1), Madigan (1/1)

Penalty Burns (1/2)

Leinster: Jimmy O’Brien (Rory O’Loughlin HT); Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw (Rory O’Loughlin 32-40 HIA), Dave Kearney (Tommy O’Brien 30); Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath (captain); Cian Healy (Michael Milne 51), Seán Cronin (Rónan Kelleher 49), Tadhg Furlong (Michael Bent 65); Ryan Baird (Devin Toner 67), James Ryan; Josh Murphy (Jack Conan 49), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Ulster: Jacob Stockdale (Rob Lyttle 42); Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy; Billy Burns (Iain Madigan 63), David Shanahan (Nathan Doak 63); Eric O’Sullivan (Callum Reid 63), Rob Herring (Brad Roberts 63), Marty Moore (Tom O’Toole 63); Sam Carter (Alan O’Connor 51), Iain Henderson (captain); Matty Rea, Sean Reidy (Greg Jones 71), Nick Timoney.

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU) 

About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy

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