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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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Ulster trounce Leinster to tighten their grip on Pro12 semi-final spot

An impressive performance saw Les Kiss’s side narrowly miss out on a bonus point.

Ulster 30
Leinster 6

Neil Carnduff reports from Kingspan Stadium

ULSTER CEMENTED THEIR claim on a top-four Guinness Pro12 finish this afternoon in Belfast courtesy of a well-earned victory over ill-disciplined Leinster, partial architects of their own downfall as they leaked two yellow cards and a penalty try.

Second-half tries from Jared Payne and Paddy Jackson sealed the deal for Les Kiss’s men, along with 13 points from the boot of the young out-half, who shone throughout while opposite number Jonathan Sexton failed to make much of an impression.

David Nucifora with Joe Schmidt Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt looks on. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

While by no means an interpro classic, the match had enough needle, determination and craft to enthral a capacity Kingspan Stadium, and set up an intriguing final round of the competition proper, with Leinster on 68 points guaranteed a play-off spot, while Ulster, on 64, will be looking over their shoulders at fifth-placed Scarlets, sitting on 58 in advance of their evening clash with Newport-Gwent Dragons.

The teamsheets read like a veritable who’s-who of Irish rugby, with no fewer than 18 full internationals in the starting 30 — and a further 12 on the two benches.
Ulster were without Tommy Bowe, whose knee reacted badly after his return to first-team action against Zebre a fortnight ago, and Nick Williams, whose need for surgery on a shoulder tear means he has played his last game in white-and-red before his move to Cardiff in the summer. Craig Gilroy, suffering from a virus, was a late withdrawal and replaced by up-and-coming wing Rory Scholes.

Leinster were similarly bereft of a couple of big names in the form of Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy, while Bordeaux-bound Ian Madigan started his final interpro derby from the bench.

Paddy Jackson with Ian Madigan Paddy Jackson of Ulster puts in a big tackle on Ian Madigan. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Any doubts there may have been about the intensity of the encounter were put to bed early with a flattening tackle from Andrew Trimble on Rob Kearney as the visiting full-back collected a high ball in his own 22, followed on the five-minute mark by some sparring between the same player and Scholes.

Obstruction on Trimble gave Jackson the first points on 12 minutes, and Ulster continued to show the slicker handiwork with a right-wing exchange between Jackson, Payne and Trimble mesmeric, before Ruan Pienaar broke through on goal on 17 minutes, chasing his own chip only for that man Kearney to stoop into his path for an intentional block which left the Springbok requiring treatment.

After some deliberation, referee George Clancy sent Kearney to the sinbin and awarded the penalty try for the professional foul, Jackson adding the extras for a deserved 10-point lead. The concession stirred a reaction from the Leinstermen, for whom Sexton clipped over a tricky penalty just before Kearney retook the field. The half then closed with yet another bone-cruncher from Trimble – poor Garry Ringrose this time the recipient – and some staunch Ulster defence on their five-metre line.

George Clancy shows a yellow card to Rob Kearney Rob Kearney gets a 10-minute time-out from referee George Clancy. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Another chip-and-chase – this time from Jackson, grounded by Luke McGrath behind his line – got Ulster a five-metre scrum early in the second period, but as Leinster wrenched back possession, a fine run from Ben Te’o brought play well into their opponents’ half, where Isa Nacewa looked dangerous until he was unceremoniously dumped into touch on the right wing.

Back on the attack on 53 minutes, Ulster were denied another try-scoring chance when Luke Fitzgerald – only on the field a matter of moments – held back Scholes as the wing shaped to pick up Stuart McCloskey’s pass in the 22. As Fitzgerald trudged off to the bin, Jackson held his nerve to extend the lead to seven.

The killer blow came two minutes before the hour, Jackson carving out a gap for Marshall who found Payne’s diagonal run for a neat try in the corner, converted once again.

Ulster players celebrate Jared Payne's try Ulster celebrate Jared Payne's try. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A third Jackson penalty 10 minutes from time cast Leinster further adrift, and the out-half capped a rarely-bettered display with two minutes to go as he seized on a loose Leinster ball in his own half and outpaced three chasers in an exhilarating dash for the line and the third try.

Ulster scorers…
Tries: Penalty try, Jared Payne, Paddy Jackson
Conversions: Paddy Jackson (3)
Penalties: Paddy Jackson (3)
Leinster scorers…
Penalties: Jonathan Sexton (2)

Ulster: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Rory Scholes; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Callum Black, Rory Best (c), Ricky Lutton; Pete Browne, Franco van der Merwe; Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Sean Reidy. Replacements: Rob Herring, Kyle McCall, Andrew Warwick, Robbie Diack, Roger Wilson, Paul Marshall, Stuart Olding, Darren Cave.

Leinster: Rob Kearney; Isa Nacewa (c), Garry Ringrose, Ben Te’o, Dave Kearney; Jonathan Sexton, Luke McGrath; Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss, Tadgh Furlong; Devin Toner, Hayden Triggs, Rhys Ruddck, Josh Van der Flier, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Sean Cronin, Peter Dooley, Mike Ross, Mick Kearney, Jordi Murphy, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Luke Fitzgerald.

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As it happened: Ulster v Leinster, Guinness Pro12

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About the author:

Neil Carnduff

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