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Leinster recover from slow start to land their third PRO14 title in a row

Tries from Lowe, Henshaw and Doris resulted in Leinster beating their Irish rivals 27-5.

Robbie Henshaw scores his intercept try.
Robbie Henshaw scores his intercept try.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO



A PREDICTABLE OUTCOME, joy for Leinster, pain for Ulster and also for those pinning their hopes on some team emerging from the pack to not just challenge Leinster but beat them.

Ultimately, Ulster couldn’t. They gave it a right go for at least a half, playing with more ambition and intent than Munster did eight days ago, but they were outpowered here by a Leinster team who appear to have the ability to go on and on and on. Their grip on the PRO14 is as tight as Juventus’ hold of the Serie A title and Dublin’s control of the All-Ireland championship.

Their brilliance was largely in defence but also in the composure of their execution, the coolness of their self-belief and their ability to rattle Ulster into coughing up errors and points whenever they took the game into the Leinster 22.

Now it has to be said that Ulster didn’t help their cause by wasting opportunities. They were just shy of Leinster at half-time, five points in arrears, but they were outplayed in the 10 minutes after the break,  as Leinster built on their lead, scoring a converted try by Robbie Henshaw as well as seeing Ross Byrne nail a tricky penalty.

And that was that. Tellingly, Ulster went 76 minutes without scoring, watching their early five point lead get wiped out, first by James Lowe, then Henshaw, finally Caelan Doris. Between them, Ross Byrne and Johnny Sexton also landed five kicks.

And yet, and yet, Ulster made a game of it, at least in the beginning.

Inspired by the impressive Stuart McCloskey, they took the game to Leinster and deserved their fourth-minute lead through James Hume’s try. Credit McCloskey firstly, as he made the initial line break on the right, setting up quick ball for Alby Mathewson to recycle.

All of a sudden Leinster were on the back foot and by the time Alan O’Connor delivered a subtle midfield pass for Hume, space was opening up. Hume didn’t need to be told this, as he skipped outside Ronan Kelleher before stepping Lowe near the Leinster line, then holding off Hugo Keenan’s challenge as he crossed it. Try, Ulster. 

james-hume-celebrates-scoring-his-sides-first-try James Hume celebrates Ulster's fourth minute try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

At this stage you were thinking the hype was justified, that the McFarland revolution could be trusted. We had a game, and Leinster’s immediate response was a reflection of that reality. Urged into action, they upped the tempo, loudly celebrating whatever little victories came their way.

So for that matter did Ulster and when Byrne kicked out on the full, the cheer from pitchside could be heard on the upper tier of the West Stand.

Leinster were relentless though, and on 14 minutes they had a try of their own, Garry Ringrose making the initial break, setting up great field position inside the Ulster 22. All they needed now was patience, and as they worked through the phases, space eventually opened up.

Even so it still took a superb pass from Jamison Gibson-Park to exploit those gaps, as his whipped delivery from the base of a ruck found Lowe lurking in the left corner. Try, 5-5 on the scoreboard which soon became 7-5 when Byrne kicked a difficult conversion.

It was developing into a fascinating contest – although errors were also evident, particularly at Leinster’s set-piece, where Kelleher’s throws failed to always find their intended target.

Nonetheless, in attack Leinster still looked threatening. Good teams have a habit of doing this, appearing as if they have more time in possession, and crucially providing cleaner ball to their backs. They were clearly dominant for about 15 minutes mid-way through that first half, their efforts rewarded with a penalty from Byrne.

But back came Ulster. As the half came towards its end, they had Leinster pinned inside their own 22, an unmarked Rob Lyttle screaming for the ball on the wing as McCloskey tried to barrel through a trio of defenders. In the end, Andrew Porter forced a turnover and Leinster could breathe a little easier.

james-lowe-scores-a-try James Lowe crosses to score for Leinster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Not for long, though, for if Leinster owned the middle period of that first half, then Ulster were the dominant force in the final part of it as they began to win collisions, bashing away up the middle before a couple of penalties went their way.

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Typically, they kicked to the corner, won the line-out, set up phase after phase of attack – coming close to the try-line. But Leinster held firm, their organised defence putting Ulster under pressure, forcing that Porter turnover, later from a separate attack, for Hume to knock-on. 

So half-time came with Leinster holding a five-point lead and Ulster wondering whether they had the energy and the willpower to maintain the intensity of their effort.

You wouldn’t have thought so when Byrne knocked over a 45th minute penalty to extend Leinster’s lead to eight points and by the time Billy Burns was throwing that careless pass straight into Robbie Henshaw’s hands a minute later, the game was as good as up.

McFarland’s response was to empty the bench, making four changes immediately – three in the pack, with Jack McGrath, Nick Timoney and Sam Carter all coming in. In addition, John Cooney was introduced for Mathewson.

They arrived into a crisis, though – Leinster on the charge, Ringrose making another break, Ulster impressing with their last-ditch defence, still passionately manning the barricades. 

Ultimately, though, they didn’t hold out. Another try from Doris and they were beaten. Deservedly so. Leinster were simply too good.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Lowe, Henshaw, Doris  

Conversions: Byrne 2/2, Sexton 1/1

Penalties: Byrne 2/2

Ulster scorers:

Tries: Hume  

Leinster: Jordan Larmour; Hugo Keenan, Garry Ringrose (Capt) (Rory O’Loughlin ’68), Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Ross Byrne (Johnny Sexton ‘60), Jamison Gibson-Park (Luke McGrath ‘60); Cian Healy (Ed Byrne ‘52), Rónan Kelleher (James Tracy ‘60), Andrew Porter (Michael Bent ‘63); Devin Toner, James Ryan (Scott Fardy ‘63); Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier (Will Connors ‘73), Jack Conan.

Ulster: Michael Lowry; Rob Lyttle, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns (Ian Madigan ‘54), Alby Mathewson (John Cooney ‘48); Eric O’Sullivan (Jack McGrath ‘48), Rob Herring (John Andrew ‘21-35, HIA, ); Tom O’Toole (Marty Moore ‘55); Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt) (Sam Carter ‘48); Matthew Rea (Jordi Murphy ’56), Sean Reidy, Marcell Coetzee (Nick Timoney ’48).


Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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