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As it happened: Leinster v Ulster, Champions Cup quarter-final

We went minute-by-minute for what proved to be an epic inter-pro clash in the Aviva Stadium.

  • Leinster R. Byrne 10', A. Byrne 53'
  • Ulster K. Treadwell 5', L. Marshall 63'
  • BT Sport 3
Image : Morgan Treacy/INPHO
131,328 Views 44 Comments

We’ll have all the reaction and analysis you can handle from the aftermath of that cracking quarter, and Ryan Bailey’s on the whistle match report will be awaiting your eyes shortly.

But I think we all ought to take a wee lie down and thing about what we were just treated to over the past 80 minutes.

That was an epic of an inter-pro.

Leinster show the value in their depth chart. Ireland’s golden boy Jacob Stockdale shows a rare fault on his meteoric rise to stardom.

The underdogs battled and rattled their hosts, the champions had to show their mettle and their pain tolerance to, just about, chisel a route into the semi-finals.

They’ll be back here for the final four in three weeks time if Toulouse manage to win in Paris tomorrow. Otherwise, Leo Cullen and co will be packing their bags to take on Racing 92.

Ulster are refusing to relent and allow this final scoreline a blue gloss, they are still defending like a team who believes they can yet reach the semis.

This is where all that Championship nous comes into play. Leinster ploughing through phase after phase, sapping energy and belief from Ulster while building camp inside the visitors 22.

Ulster were reluctant to go wide and that. is. why.

Scott Fardy leads the charge with e bullish clear-out and creates a turnover.

Now the Leinster faithful unveil their pipes as ‘come on you boys in blue’ rings out.

Ulster are only three down and they have the ball in the Leinster half. Cooney is down cramped, but if they can engineer him a shot, he might just find a way to take it.

That proved Byrne’s last act. He was shouting at the sky in pain after the restart and then the reprieve came as Rob Kearney was sent on in his place.

Reid to 10, Larmour to the centre.

Leinster force a penalty out on the right touchline, but Ross Byrne isn’t calling Noel Reid forth, he’s determined to hit it himself.

Stand by for an Aviva roar one way or the other…

This is certainly a long way removed from the last European meeting between the sides, and far from what the bookies predicted.

Ross Byrne is still on the field and still struggling, hobbling away after each kick.

Wow Wow Wow!

Luke Marshall gets the try after 10 months out with a knee injury!

But his touchdown only comes after he appeared to give a forward pass in the build-up. It seems like it’s more than two phases back before the grounding and Poite doesn’t appear to ask.

But, plot-twist, Cooney pulls the conversion just left of the uprights.

Leinster 18 Ulster 18

Luke Marshall is also on, tasting his first competitive action since May.

Ulster forego the easy three and attack Leinster with a line-out.

Dan Leavy is still down and will be stretchered off. Here’s hoping his injury is as serious as this looks as the openside is only just back after being sidelined since September.

Poite is being very consistent and neither side will come away happy with him. He’s favouring the attacking side at the breakdown and on this occasion it means a penalty for Ulster on the 22.

With five points in the difference, do they go for the corner or narrow the gap with the easy three?

Ross Byrne has a heavy hobble after a kick from hands on halfway and so he’s not able to sweep up when Jacob Stockdale chips and regathers through midfield going the other way.

Leinster will have to switch Noel Reid to 10 if Byrne can’t shake this off.

Leinster’s defence is rock solid again off that set-piece and they push Ulster back and back again.

Ulster find Leinster standing firm in defence, but Cooney lofts a super high contestable just outside the Leinster 22 and Baloucoune manages to disrupt Dave Kearney and take the ball after it hit the ground.

The wing then raided towards the right corner, but was well marked by Jordan Larmour, who batted the attempted offload out for a line-out.

Rattled? Who said rattled?

Ulster’s pillars have a moment to forget and Jack Conan punishes them by powering through the middle. He goes over Mike Lowry before offloading to Adam Byrne, who goes well to cut inside and make a kinder angle for Ross to convert.

Leinster 18 Ulster 13

There’s the first we’ve seen of Leinster punishing a shooter. Byrne dances inside Stockdale, but his bacon is saved by a magnificent man-and-ball try-saver from Jordi Murphy on Sean Cronin.

That man John Cooney, not content with being Ulster’s best in attack, gets his hands dirty in the ruck and comes up with a penalty in the middle of his own 22.

Leinster are rattled here as Sean O’Brien departs and Dan Leavy enters the fray.

How do Ulster react from that.

One thing’s for sure, Stockdale can’t be seriously scapegoated after creating that try sheerly by dint of his own power and pace.

There’s the sort of boost the visitors needed, a big hit on halfway to force a turnover.

Bah, but they soon chip it back as Billy Burns tries to dink beyond Sean O’Brien, but he’s alive to the danger and gathers.

Oh my word.

Jacob Stockdale has proven himself one of the best finishers in world rugby over the last two years, but he has brought a howler  here.

The wing – after an absolute barnstormer of a run through the Leinster defence – tried to put the ball down with his left-handed and it’s immediately apparent that there is a strange bounce.

Poite goes TMO and the TMO confirms that Big Jake has made the big mistake.

Now there’s a sight. Big Tadhg Furlong gives winger Robert Baloucoune a decent race as they both chase a loose ball towards the Ulster 22.


Ulster get the second half under way and Garry Ringrose is charged down for a second time by an Ulster hooker.

Last time it was Rory Best and a try, but Rob Herring’s block bobbles dead and just evades the replacement.

Noel Reid is in the game for Leinster, replacing Rory O’Loughlin.

John Cooney has been the man of the hour as he returned to his home club Lansdowne.

Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy with John Cooney Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Well, are we all settled down after that frenetic 40 minutes?

We’ve been catching our breath and winding up big metaphorical slaps on the back for the way Ulster have torn into the heavy favourites and given them an extremely uncomfortable half of knockout rugby.

Can they sustain it? Without Rory Best doe they have enough weaponry? Can Darren Cave keep shooting out of the line to suffocate Garry Ringrose?

Or Can Leinster find a way through the relentless Ulster effort?

All the answers will be with you in a little over 45 minutes.

Darren Cave is gunning it out of the line. This time around he doesn’t quite hit his target, but for the most part the tactic is working as it is forcing Leinster to keep looking narrow.

The rest of the men in red do their job in defence too and they see out the half leading at the home of the champions.

HALF-TIME: Leinster 11 Ulster 13

Back come Ulster.

They look to create an overlap on the left, but Burns cuts back inside when Lowry, Stockdale and Cave are available.

McCloskey uses the advantage in the right channel, grubbering for Baloucoune, but the Enniskillen man is well wrapped up and dumped out.

Cooney makes no mistake with the penalty back in front of the posts.

PENALTY! Leinster 11 Ulster 13 (Cooney ’38)

Is that the tide turning?

Rory O’Loughlin does a cracking job of ripping the ball out of Stu McCloskey’s arms while he’s being fended.

Attacking scrum for Leinster turns into penalty advantage. Byrne is the master of the free play and his cross-field kick is taken beautifully in stride by Dave Kearney.

He’s hauled in short though, and Poite allows Leinster go back for a kick.

Leinster’s out-half is off the mark. Poite penalised the visitors at the breakdown on the edge of the 22 and Byrne gobbled up the chance to restore confidence in his right boot.

Adam Byrne with Jacob Stockdale Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Here’s a cracking snap of that aerial duel between Stockdale and Byrne we mentioned earlier.

Darren Cave empties Garry Ringrose in midfield and for a solid 5-10 seconds Ulster think they have an overlap and turnover to work with on the left. Unfortunately for Mike Lowry, he is called back from under the posts as Coetzee’s early tackle was in fact a knock on.

Molly Malone is nowhere to be heard as Ulster fans show their vocal range around the Aviva.

But Leinster are still giving the majority in the crowd something to shout about.

Henderson is tempted offside. It’s very kickable for Byrne, but Rhys Ruddock has opted to go for the corner.

AND CRONIN’S THROW IS LONG. Another massive skirmish win for Ulster.

John Cooney launches a huge Garryowen into the chilly evening air and it brings a terrific aerial battle between Stockdale and Adam Byrne.

Stockdale rises an inch higher than the Leinster wing and gives his side a platform to attack from on the 22.

Over on the left, Healy is penalised and Cooney will have a shot to extend the lead.

Darren Cave penalised for offisde on the first play after Best’s departure, but Ross Byrne again finds his radar a little off as his 40-metre effort drifts left of the uprights.

No luck for the Ireland captain. The ankle strapping is not enough to secure the joint and Rob Herring is up and on the field to replace him.

Best sits on the sideline seats with his head in his hands. Is that his final bow in European rugby?

The game understandably flicked down a few gears after that unreal opening 10. All the players are getting a chance to catch a breath now, while Rory Best takes a bit of treatment.

He’s been forced out of European quarter-finals before, so he will be loathed to watch on from a distance again.

Ulster finally yield after 26 phases, after withstanding enormous carries from Sean O’Brien and Tadhg Furlong, Ross Byrne shuns a pass and leads his shoulder into Robert Baloucoune before planting over the line.

The out-half doesn’t quite connect cleanly with his conversion though, it slips right of the posts and Ulster remain in the lead.

Leinster 5 Ulster 7

Leinster respond like champions, they’re laying siege in the Ulster 22. They’re already up on 19 phases and asking big questions of that solid red wall of Ulster’s defence.

It’s to-and-fro, helter-skelter, not an inch given. A cracking start to this contest.

After Rory Best’s line-out throw is lost, he makes massive amends by punishing Garry Ringrose for taking far too long to search for a gap to clear with his boot.

Best blocks down and Kieran Treadwell is the man to react quickest and he grounds the try.

John Cooney nails his first kick in the Aviva Stadium

Leinster 0 Ulster 7

After another McCloskey burst, Healy attempted to rip but knocked on.

Ulster’s attacking scrum is clever and initially looks as though Stockdale has a 1-on-1 against Kearney, but he is soon wrapped up in the corner by four blue jerseys.

Rory Best helps to force a turnover for Ulster on the ground and it’s a doubly big boost for the men in red after Stu McCloskey goes bulldozing over Cian Healy.

Leinster recover and force Burns into a speculative kick, but the hits are ferocious in these early exchanges.


Ross Byrne gets us underway, he kicks to the 22 line, where Nick Timoney takes the ball in.

Ulster recycle and John Cooney takes them to a higher defensive marker.

The teams are on their way out on Lansdowne Road and plenty of the seats have filled up in time to greet them.

There’s a fervent atmosphere a brewin’ in the Aviva. Blue flags, white flags fly accompanied by the similarly syllabled chants of ‘Leinster’ and and ‘Ulster’.

We’re in our seats high up in the Aviva stands and let me tell you, sports fans, it’s pretty damn chilly in Dublin this evening.

Mercifully, there hasn’t been more than a spit of rain so far though.

There are some reports from outside the Aviva of fan congestion and ticketing issues. Do get in touch if you’re experiencing that, but take your time. You’d be amazed how far you get in the Aviva in 15 minutes.

We’ve been handed out the team-sheets in the Aviva and there are no signs of any late changes. Fingers crossed, there’s none afoot.


15. Jordan Larmour
14. Adam Byrne
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Rory O’Loughlin
11. Dave Kearney
10. Ross Byrne
9. Luke McGrath

1. Cian Healy
2. Sean Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Scott Fardy
5. James Ryan
6. Rhys Ruddock (captain)
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jack Conan


16. James Tracy
17. Ed Byrne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Mick Kearney
20. Dan Leavy
21. Jamison Gibson-Park
22. Noel Reid
23. Rob Kearney.


15. Mike Lowry
14. Robert Baloucoune
13. Darren Cave
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Billy Burns
9. John Cooney

1. Eric O’Sullivan
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Marty Moore
4. Iain Henderson
5. Kieran Treadwell
6. Nick Timoney
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Marcell Coetzee


16. Rob Herring
17. Andy Warwick
18. Wiehahn Herbst
19. Alan O’Connor
20. Sean Reidy
21. Dave Shanahan
22. Luke Marshall
23. Angus Kernohan. 

Referee: Romain Poite [France].

Not long to wait now, inter-pro fans.

Leinster v Ulster is coming up at 17.45 and it’s shaping up to be an utterly absorbing battle.

The European champions are at home and red hot favourites against a resurgent Ulster.

Both sides have their fair share of injury concerns with Jonathan Sexton and Robbie Henshaw sidelined for Leinster, while Ulster have had to patch up Darren Cave and Iain Henderson to maximise their chance of an upset.


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