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Dublin: 7°C Thursday 15 April 2021
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Leinster march on, a terrific defensive effort combined with a clinical edge in attack sets them on course for Edinburgh where they will face either Connacht or Glasgow Warriors in the Grand Final.

Ulster? Well, they know the story. Because they’ve been through it all before. Momentum built, the RDS visited and then it all comes crumbling down.

They fought back after falling way behind early on, but you never felt like they would hold Leinster at bay long enough to claw into a decisive lead.

Rory Best cuts a dejected figure on the sidelines. It’s yet another season without silverware for his Ulster side. This province really needs to strengthen its pack to compete on stages like this.

They go for Gilroy again and he’s stripped on the left flank. The ball spins out to touch. Ulster ball. Leinster are going to win this game with minimal possession and a mountain of tackles to their name.

74 mins: Ulster racking up another long set of phases, but Leinster’s D is coping manfully.

Ulster understandably reluctant to kick the ball away, but running from deep sucks up so much time. They force a pen eventually and so Jackson can set up a line-out in Leinster territory.

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TRY! Leinster 30 Ulster 18 (Gilroy ’69)

Leinster’s tempo drops to nothing and Ulster capitalise with a first phase score under the posts. Jackson takes a quick conversion and Ulster will attempt to make a game of this in the final 10.

Stu Olding just evades a high arm from Toner. Ulster kick in behind Leinster and Sexton’s attempt to side foot the ball out is way too heavy so Ulster will have a 5m scrum.

Sexton is flawless off the tee tonight.

Leinster 30 Ulster 11

What a difference three weeks and knockout rugby makes, eh?

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Leinster continuing to pile the pressure on. No need to force anything, nice and simple until Sean Cronin is fed a reverse pass.

TRY! Leinster 28 Ulster 11 (Cronin ’65)

Oh no. Franco van der Merwe loses the line-out and Chris Henry is pinged for a knock-on as Leinster go on the attack. The openside fortunate not to be deemed deliberate. Everything unraveling for the northern province now.

Leinster in their ideal position now. Whatever criticisms you may have of them this season, they most certainly have a big game nous and they are choking the life out of Ulster bit by bit here.

Tadhg Furlong is on to twist the knife in Ulster. He wins a big scrum penalty and it’s Sexton’s easiest kick of the night.

PENALTY! Leinster 23 Ulster 11 (Sexton ’57)

The Leinster supporters club have pronounced Ulster dead and buried here.

Too soon?

That try is a complete gut punch for Ulster. They worked so hard to claw their way back in the game and Leinster pick them off when it really counts.

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TRY! Leinster 20 Ulster 11 (Heaslip ’47)

Terrific evasive running from Ringrose before Te’o puts Heaslip on a collision course with Jackson. Only one winner. A massive score in the story of this game… and Sexton goes and nails another brilliant conversion.

Callum Black’s race is run, Les Kiss sends Kyle McCall in for a little more dynamism around the park.

Ulster’s passing not exactly slick, but the passes go to ground rather than forward and they can keep demanding sapping tackles from the hosts.

Leinster answer every question though and win a penalty which Sexton blasts well into the Ulster half.

Ulster come roaring back and nobody makes more noise on the run than BIG IAIN HENDERSON.

Leinster bring him down just outside their 22 and Leinster have more defending to do.

Ulster penalised for blocking, but Sexton looks to have tweaked something in trying to bring Craig Gilroy to ground.

Garry Ringrose pinged for a high tackle of Jared Payne. Jackson drills the penalty towards the corner and Ulster use McCloskey on the bosh again.

A blood-stained Iain Henderson leads Ulster back out onto the field and Paddy Jacson kicks off the second half.

Where’s your money now? Leinster’s 13-point head-start is down to two points. If Ulster can win another quarter they might just feel the need to win this semi-final.

Jackson misses the conversion, but Ulster deservedly back in this game after a horror start.

HALF-TIME! Leinster 13 Ulster 11

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TRY! Leinster 13 Ulster 11 (Gilroy ‘ 38)

Phew! That was mighty close. The winger snuck into the corner and dotted down while being smashed by Dave Kearney.

There was a trailing leg from the wing, but every angle the TMO went to the view was blocked.

No nonsense off that set-piece from Ulster. McCloskey boshers all the way to the 22 and Leinster have to scramble.

37 mins: Just a few little bounces of the ball beginning to go Ulster’s way now. Trimble forces a knock on in the air from Nacewa and Marshall runs on to the ball. Leinster do ruck over him well, but the advantage for KO is coming and Ulster will scrum with two and a half minutes remaining in this half.

Aw, brilliant work from Callum Black to mess up a Leinster ruck just inside the Ulster 22. They win a penalty and can clear their lines.

A big Isa Nacewa break looked likely to put Leinster back on the score-sheet, but he was well wrapped up by Reidy and the pace of the attack was lost.

Sexton making a concerted effort to stem the belated Ulster tide that’s sweeping this game. The Ireland 10 drills a fine kick in behind the white line and pins them into their 22.

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Richardt Strauss penalised for hands on the ball in front of the posts. Easy three.

PENALTY! Leinster 13 Ulster 6 (Jackson ’32)

Ulater banging on the door again. Making big inroads out wide . Gilroy attempts a lunge for the line, but he’s short.

Ulster attempting to line up an inside runner for Jackson to switch back onto, but Leinster D reading it well tonight.

Ulster penalty is the sum of that particular mess. They kick for the corner.

OOMPH! Ben Te’o puts in a brute of a hit just inside Ulster’s half. Ian Davies goes TMO to check if it’s worth more than a penalty.

Oh, wait. The first TMO replay is actually checking if there’s been a choking action on Luke Marshall.

Te’o probably lucky that the man upstairs didn’t get looking at his hit.

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Ulster’s huffing and puffing finally yields a score.

PENALTY! Leinster 13 Ulster 3 ( Jackson ’26)

Gilroy again looking like Ulster’s brightest spark, he chips through defenders for Reidy to chase, but as the ball reaches the try-line, Reidy is losing his race and Leinster clear.

Toner takes the line-out and Reddan clears up the line. A simple, but incredibly effective exit strategy Leinster continue to go to.

Craig Gilroy puts on a burst of pace towards the left flank, but he’s choked up and Leinster steal the ball as he tries to hand it off.

Much more promising set of 15 phases from Ulster. Luke Marshall came very close to breaking to the try-line, but Rhys Ruddock got a tap on him and the set ended with Iain Henderson, of all people, getting bundled out of touch by two big hits from Te’o and Nacewa.

Ulster, at last, do get themselves in attacking formation. McCloskey rumbles into the 22 and Pienaar does his best to keep the big runners ticking over.

15 minutes gone and the Ulster fans in Ballsbridge will be thinking it would be nice to see Ulster play a bit. It has been bumper to bumper one way traffic so far.

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Ulster survive, for now.

15 phases of absolute dominance after a loose Stuart McCloskey pass. Les Kiss will have to be pleased with a penalty conceded in the 22 and Leinster lead by almost two maximum scores.

PENALTY! Leinster 13 Ulster 0 (Sexton ’15)

Sexton has Leinster marauding forward again. Ulster are clinging on in their 22 with blue shirts barreling down and across gainlines.

Stephen Ferris, in between talk of smoke going up lads’ asses, stressed the importance of a solid start from Ulster tonight. They’re team who does not do well when chasing a game.

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Ian Davies pings Chris Henry on the deck after a rock solid Rhys Ruddock carry. Sexton takes aim from a good 45 metres…

PENALTY! Leinster 10 Ulster 0 (Sexton ’10)

Ulster won’t shy away from the Les Kiss trademark choke tackle . McCloskey goes in and though it’s toppled, the centre is able to rip the ball and Pienaar bashes the ball into Leinster territory.

Leinster’s scrum-half has a response again though, another fine kick up the touchline from the Limerick man.

7 mins: Luke Fitzgerald has started brightly for the hosts. He chases a Reddan box kick and contests with Trimble. The Leinster wing does enough to mess up the ball for the would-be fielder.

Excellent conversion from Sexton to put the cherry on the opening five-minute cake for Leinster.

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TRY! Leinster 7 Ulster 0 (Nacewa ’5)

Terrific finish from the Aucklander. He powered in between a gap with two defenders well placed. The TMO checks for a double movement, but he’s entitled to place the ball after hitting the deck.

Te’o gets up a good head of steam inside the 22, but he’s well chopped and can’t get the offload away.

Leinster go through a nice constructive set of phases with their back-line. And a Sexton chip over the top pins Ulster on their 5 metre line.

Pienaar slices his clearance and Leinster can build again from the 22.

KICK-OFF: We’re off an running, Sexton sending a kick towards the left touchline. It goes out of touch for an Ulster LO.

The teams are out then, crunch time.

Here’s a reminder of the teams for tonight’s seismic inter-pro.

Leinster

15. Isa Nacewa (captain)
14. Dave Kearney
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Ben Te’o
11. Luke Fitzgerald
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Eoin Reddan

1. Jack McGrath
2. Richardt Strauss
3. Mike Ross
4. Devin Toner
5. Mick Kearney
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Jamie Heaslip

Replacements:

16. Sean Cronin
17. Peter Dooley
18. Tadhg Furlong
19. Ross Molony
20. Jack Conan
21. Luke McGrath
22. Ian Madigan
23. Zane Kirchner

Ulster

15. Jared Payne
14. Andrew Trimble
13. Luke Marshall
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Craig Gilroy
10. Paddy Jackson
9. Ruan Pienaar

1. Callum Black
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Ricky Lutton
4. Peter Browne
5. Franco van der Merwe
6. Iain Henderson
7. Chris Henry
8. Sean Reidy

Replacements:

16. Rob Herring
17. Kyle McCall
18. Andy Warwick
19. Robbie Diack
20. Roger Wilson
21. Paul Marshall
22. Stuart Olding
23. Darren Cave

A quick look out the window tells us that our forecast of rain and lots of it, thankfully hasn’t come to pass (yet). That feels like good news for Ulster, because they take the lighter, less-experienced pack.

How’s the nervous tension? We’ve been practicing our deep breathing exercises all damn day. Now, the talking is (almost) over, making way for some actual meaningful clashes between the best Leinster and Ulster have to offer.

Got a pediction, concern, an opinion, hope or just a roar you’d like to get out? Just let it loose in the comment section, on our Facebook page or tweet and follow @Rugby_ie.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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