Leinster ride out the storm to escape from Belfast with a seven-point win

Ulster lost 20-13 to Leinster in round three of the URC this evening.

Image: Ben Brady/INPHO



THE RAIN FELL heavily in Belfast and Ulster also landed with a bump. Table toppers coming into this game, they lost their unbeaten record, their hopes of a hat-trick of wins over Leinster and the chance to lay down a marker.

Their regrets will linger well into next week. Winger Aaron Sexton made a couple of choices he’d love to revisit, the first a quick lineout which caught Jacob Stockdale unawares, eventually leading to a penalty, and off the next phase, a Leinster try – before, in the second half, he failed to ground the ball when offered a try-scoring opportunity.

In the end, those moments were critical. Yet you can’t pin a result on one player. It took Ulster an hour to get going. Until then they were losing the battle in the scrum, were constantly making unforced errors and were failing to make the most of their visits to the Leinster 22.

In a way the tone was set from the start, Ulster dominating possession for the first five minutes, playing at a rapid pace, yet going nowhere, Leinster’s defence resolute, organised, systematic.

Before you knew it, they were turning defence into attack, winning a scrum penalty on half way and then pitching up in the Ulster 22 off the resulting kick. Soon after Ryan Baird scored in the corner, Ross Byrne creating space for him with two whipped passes, Garry Ringrose contributing with a tip on pass, Dave Kearney with the final assist. Baird finished smartly. Nine minutes played and Leinster had a seven-nil lead.

Little errors proved costly, such as Billy Burns’ kick to touch on 15 minutes which should have left Ulster five metres from the Leinster line but instead kept them further out. From the resulting line-out their maul just failed to get across the line, Marcus Rea held up by Josh van der Flier.

So it was not as though Ulster didn’t have opportunities. They had. But the thing that will irk them most will be the fact it took them until the final quarter before they really looked at their best. Even then, when they outscored Leinster 10-0, they should have scored more, Sexton missing that chance after some superb link play by Stuart McCloskey and Michael Lowry.

jacob-stockdale-in-the-rainy-conditions Stockdale copes with the rain. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

We could go on. Lowry dropped a couple of balls in the first half, as did Stockdale. Yet there has to be some forgiveness because the weather was awful, the skies opening in that first half, thereby making a comeback that bit harder.

Credit then has to be given for their refusal to give up on this game. They were 20-3 down entering the final quarter – Baird’s try was followed by one for Dan Sheehan which came after the quick Sexton line-out led to Stockdale being penalised for not releasing. From that penalty, Ross Byrne found touch, Dan Sheehan found Jack Conan and Sheehan then found himself breaking off the maul to score.

Byrne added the extras and also kicked another couple of penalties either side of half-time to put Leinster 17 points clear – Cooney having kicked Ulster’s first points with a 40-metre penalty in the first half.

When the second half began the rain returned. Suddenly that lead of Leinster’s looked insurmountable, not just because of the worsening conditions, also because the eight-times champions just weren’t in a charitable mood.

Ulster were though. Another soft penalty – this one for offside – allowed Byrne to make it four from four on 47 minutes, Leinster’s lead extended to 20-3, and there was no way you could see them relinquishing it.

But they nearly did.

On 62 minutes, when Jimmy O’Brien played the ball on the deck, they were seemingly in control. By the time O’Brien returned, they weren’t. First, from the penalty conceded by O’Brien, Billy Burns kicked to touch and John Andrew scored from the resulting lineout drive. Cooney converted and it was 20-10.

Six minutes later it should have been 20-17 after McCloskey, Burns and Lowry ran a clever move to present Sexton with a chance to score. But he failed to ground the ball and Leinster escaped, conceding another penalty that Cooney scored from the 10-metre line. That made a game of it. But Leinster saw it out, showing enough bite and grit to come through the storm and leave with the points.  

Ulster scorers

Tries: Andrew

Conversions: Cooney (1/1)

Penalties: Cooney (2/2)

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Leinster scorers

Tries: Baird, Sheehan

Conversions: Byrne (2/2)

Penalties: Byrne (1/1)

Ulster: Michael Lowry, Aaron Sexton, Luke Marshall (rep: Angus Marhsall ’74), Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale (rep: Ben Moxham ’41), Billy Burns, John Cooney (rep: David Shanahan ’73), Andy Warwick (rep: Eric O’Sullivan ’58), Rob Herring (rep: John Andrew ’22), Tom O’Toole (rep: Marty Moore ’58), Alan O’Connor (CAPT), Kieran Treadwell (rep: Sam Carter ’62), Matty Rea (rep: Greg Jones ’58), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney 

Leinster: Jimmy O’Brien (yellow card ), Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose (CAPT), Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney (Charlie Ngatai ’67), Ross Byrne (rep: Johnny Sexton ’67), Luke McGrath (rep: Nick McCarthy ’67), Andrew Porter (rep: Ed Byrne ’65), Dan Sheehan, Michael Ala’alatoa (rep: Vakhtang Abdaladze ’74), Ross Molony, Jason Jenkins (rep: James Ryan ‘ 55), Ryan Baird (rep: Will Connors ’67), Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan

Replacements not used: John McKee

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)

About the author:

Garry Doyle  / reports from Belfast

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