Dublin: 17°C Tuesday 27 July 2021

Cronin's try the difference as Leinster edge past Ulster in low-scoring derby

Leo Cullen’s men did just enough to return to winning ways.

Ben Te'o celebrates Sean Cronin's try.
Ben Te'o celebrates Sean Cronin's try.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Leinster 8
Ulster 3

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

IT WAS FAR from pretty, and at times difficult to watch, but Leinster mustered an improved performance to put the demons of a difficult fortnight to bed with a narrow win over Ulster.

On a bitterly cold evening at the RDS, the contest never really caught fire but Leinster summoned enough resolve to edge a tight and disjointed derby.

Coming off the back of abject performances in Europe, the return of the Pro12 was a welcome one for Leo Cullen and his side but they were far from convincing and were fortunate Ulster never warmed to the task.

Sean Cronin’s try late in the first-half proved the difference as Leinster arrested their mini-losing streak.

It was another disappointing night for Ulster’s new Director of Rugby, Les Kiss, as he saw his side struggle to force the issue during a scoreless second-half.

They provided brief glimpses in attack but a succession of unforced efforts undermined their efforts. A late foray into opposition territory was about as good as it got for the visitors but Leinster’s defence, spearheaded by the energetic Josh van der Flier, stood firm.

In the build-up, Cullen reinforced the need for his side to return to winning ways and while they huffed and puffed, there were signs, some more encouraging than others, that they had ironed out the mistakes that had riddled defeats to Wasps and Bath.

There was an air of tension around the ground for much of the game and proceedings on the pitch did little to alleviate the supporters’ concerns.

In his programme notes, Cullen spoke of the importance of restoring the cauldron atmosphere to this ground after the horror show against Wasps last time out and his side started purposefully.

Once the Christmas carollers had been cleared from the playing surface, Leinster went about their business like a side determined to right the wrongs of two abject displays.

Jonathan Sexton gave the hosts an early lead after Wiehahn Herbst had been penalised at the breakdown before Ulster went down the other end and began to ask questions of Leinster’s defence.

Rhys Ruddock with Dan Tuohy and Sean Reidy Rhys Ruddock makes a break. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Paddy Jackson spurned his first opportunity from the tee but made no mistake on the second occasion to put Ulster on the board.

The visitors, themselves reeling from a disappointing outing in Europe last weekend, spent large periods of the opening half in opposition territory but lacked cohesion in attack.

While Ulster looked to keep the ball with the forwards, Leinster were willing to throw it wide at every occasion with Luke Fitzgerald offering penetration in attack.

Get exclusive
lions analysis

Get members-only video analysis and Insider reports from The42’s Murray Kinsella

Become a Member

It was an avenue Leinster looked to exploit on several occasions and it was a fruitful outlet. Isa Nacewa, a late call-up following the withdrawal of Rob Kearney, inter-changed with Fitzgerald well but Ulster had numbers in defence to avert the danger.

Leinster were beginning to knock on the door and they had Ulster stretched with a powerful rolling maul just before the half hour mark. The ball eventually was worked in field and Devin Toner thought he’d forced his way through but the TMO thought otherwise.

There was no stopping the Leinster pack just before the break, however as Cronin applied the finishing touch.

Sexton, usually so reliable from the tee, snatched at the conversion and it was indicative of another below-par performance by the out-half. He was eventually replaced in the 67th minute, hobbling off with what appeared to be a knock to his left ankle.

Jonathan Sexton goes off Sexton hobbles off. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

His best moment came shortly after the interval as Leinster searched for the knock-out blow. His pass created the opening for Ben Te’o but the centre was unable to gather with the line at his mercy.

Leinster were camped inside Ulster’s half for much of an otherwise uneventful second period but the guests did spring forward on occasion as they looked to snatch something from a game they deserved little from.

Andrew Trimble’s darting run was about the highlight before his pack were penalised at the breakdown with Leinster stretched and on the back foot.

The remaining minutes petered out and while the crowd were rarely off their feet, it was just the result the doctor ordered from a Leinster point of view – but there is much work to do ahead of a busy, and crucial, festive period.

Leinster scorers:
Tries: Sean CroninConversions:Penalties: Jonathan SextonUlster scorers:Tries:Conversions:

Penalties: Paddy Jackson

LEINSTER: I Nacewa; Z Kirchner, Ben Te’o, I Madigan, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, L McGrath; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong; D Toner, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: J Tracy, P Dooley, M Moore, R Molony, D Ryan, E Reddan, N Reid, G Ringrose.

ULSTER: P Nelson; A Trimble, D Cave, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; K McCall, R Best (capt), W Herbst, I Henderson, D Tuohy; R Diack, S Reidy, N Williams

Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick, R Lutton, R Wilson, C Henry, P Marshall, I Humphreys, L Ludik

Referee: John Lucey. 

Earls and Saili in midfield as Munster change 6 for Connacht derby

Munster and Ulster’s cancelled Champions Cup games have been rescheduled

About the author:

Ryan Bailey

Read next: