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Dublin: 4 °C Sunday 24 March, 2019
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Curtain closing on Leinster's season and more talking points from Ravenhill

Along with man of the match Iain Henderson, Paddy Jackson was critical to putting Ulster top of the table.

Playoff picture

Leinster went into this game leaving nobody uncertain what defeat would mean to them tonight. A loss leaves them stranded, needing a miracle to close the gap to the league’s top four teams who must now worry only about the order they can finish in.

Tommy Bowe with Devin Toner Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

A winning bonus was never on the table for Ulster here. The victory was all they wanted and their 10th straight league win on home turf puts them top of the table and keeps them on course to claim a home berth in the semi-finals. That position which has proven essential in each of the past five seasons as all 20 Pro12 semi-finals have gone the way of the hosts.

Leinster run out of steam

With just four changes to a team who played 100 minutes in Toulon five days ago Ulster were always likely to finish the strongest here. That the hosts reeled in an early 10-point deficit must have felt like a hammer blow after Leinster’s excellent start.

Tommy Bowe is tackled by Luke Fitzgerald Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

After the break, Ulster played a touch more conservatively, intent on not giving the game away and instead waiting until Leinster’s energy resources were spent before punishing them. Ulster’s unanswered tally of points became 26 by full-time, a disappointing defensive return for the champions after such a sparkling first 10 minutes.

Paddy Jackson

While the scoresheet doesn’t show his name, the fingerprints of Ulster’s out-half were all over the victory. Paddy Jackson produced an excellent, controlled display to guide his team to the win.

Paddy Jackson Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

Nothing Jackson does ever seems flash, yet it is consistently impressive. When it was dry and Ulster were 10 down, he checked his stride before stepping on the gas between Dominic Ryan and Sean O’Brien. By the time Jimmy Gopperth bounced off a tackle, Jackson had burst the Leinster defence wide open and Iain Henderson’s vital try would arrive within a matter of phases.

When the rain started heaving down, the out-half kept his side playing ambitious rugby with short sharp passes, each and every one of them sympathetic to the receiver and allowed them clasp on to possession before the carry.

That expansive mindset was a key part of Ulster’s gameplan as they opted to avoid the simple option of mauling in favour of a high-tempo game that stretched the blue line and ended up sucking their energy dry.

Leinster’s season reaches an early curtain

And so a difficult season in the eastern province comes to an end. It’s still mathematically possible that they could catch up on Ospreys, but a lot of things are possible with mathematics.

Jimmy Gopperth at the final whistle Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Leinster will finish the season trophy-less for the first time since 2010. Despite reaching the last four in Europe and pushing the champions to extra-time, there ‘s very little material for Matt O’Connor to pick up as an example of positive signs from this season.

The Australian coach tonight offered a flat no comment in relation to Joe Schmidt’s player management criticism, but that system will now ensure that the Leinster coach will be unable to work with his front line players for the majority of the next seven months as Team Ireland ramps up for a World Cup.

Those absences will not make improving the failings of this season easy.

As it happened: Ulster v Leinster, Pro12

Schmidt and IRFU answer ‘grossly inaccurate’ O’Connor criticisms of player management

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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