Match Report: Leinster Rugby 30-18 Ulster Rugby

Luke Marshall

Luke Marshall was excellent in the centre for Ulster but it proved to be all in vain

Ulster were not to be the first team to win an away semi-final in the Guinness PRO12 after they were handily beaten 30-18 by interprovincial rivals Leinster at the RDS Arena.

Despite the two teams going in only two points apart at half-time through tries from Isa Nacewa and Craig Gilroy, in the second half the hosts showed their knockout experience by striking two decisive blows.

Those blows came in the form of two tries from man-of-the-match Jamie Heaslip and Sean Cronin right after the break when it seemed like Ulster were going to take the lead for the first time in the game.

Ulster did manage a late consolation try from Gilroy, however this was a game that they did not take control of and they will count the cost of several errors that could have changed the course of the game.

The hosts got off to a ferocious start, attacking with vigour and after some prolonged pressure in the Ulster 22 they were rewarded with a try in just the fourth minute from captain Nacewa.

Ruan Pienaar failed to clear the visitors’ lines with a box kick and a brilliant cut out pass from Eoin Reddan put Nacewa into enough space for the full-back to jink over and touch down for the score.

Sexton converted from near the touchline and then added two penalties within the 15th minute to give Leinster a 13-0 lead that they thoroughly deserved for their dominant start in which they gave their opponents nothing to work with.

But Ulster were determined to prove they were still a threat in this game and they nearly scored with their first meaningful possession midway through the half as Luke Marshall scythed through only to be brought down by Jamie Heaslip just short of the line.

The visitors were growing back into the game though and they did get on the scoreboard for the first time in the 26th minute through a Jackson penalty after Leinster were guilty of not rolling away at the breakdown.

As much as the visitors were growing into the game, Leinster’s defence was resolute and they kept hitting the waves of Ulster attacks back at every opportunity, however they did concede a second penalty just after the half hour mark to reduce the gap to seven.

And having been 13 points down after just 15 minutes, Ulster would find themselves within a penalty of their hosts at the break after Craig Gilroy managed to dive over in the tightest of gaps in the corner.

The try was coming and after Pienaar made the initial surge, a rare foray for the scrum-half, Jackson gave the pass to Gilroy who managed to shrug off the tackle of Dave Kearney to score in the corner, a try which was confirmed after a lengthy TMO referral.

But in two decisive moments at the start of the second half, the momentum of the game shifted completely.

It looked like Ulster might take the lead for the first time when Iain Henderson ripped the ball in midfield and sprinted into the Leinster 22 only for the hosts to scramble back remarkably well in defence and hold the Ulstermen at bay.

Then, in the very next attack, Leinster struck, with Garry Ringrose shifting the focus of attack expertly which gave the space out wide for Ben Te’o to set Jamie Heaslip over for an important score.

The converted try knocked the wind out of Ulster’s sails and when the vaunted Leinster forward replacements arrived they delivered with aplomb winning a 56th minute scrum penalty which Sexton easily converted for 23-11.

The home side were showing their knowledge of how to win knockout matches with Sexton pulling the strings from fly-half and they were unlucky not to be man up too when Chris Henry seemed to deliberately knock the ball on – something that was rejected by referee Ian Davies.

Not that it mattered and, after a string of powerful scrums on the visitors’ 5m line, it was replacement hooker Sean Cronin who shimmied inside the last defender and scored the try that put three scores between the two teams in the 61st minute.

Ulster weren’t going to go down without a fight though and after forcing the error from Leinster in their own 22 a perfectly executed strike move sent Gilroy straight through a gap in the defence for a try that, at the very least, kept the contest alive.

But it was to be in vain though as, despite having all of the possession and territory in the closing moments, the visitors could not score again and were left to rue the repeated errors they made that cost them this game.

 

The scorers

For Leinster

Tries: Nacewa, Heaslip, Cronin

Cons: Sexton (3)

Pens: Sexton (3)

For Ulster

Tries: Gilroy (2)

Con: Jackson

Pens: Jackson (2)

 

LEINSTER RUGBY

(15-9) Isa Nacewa (Zane Kirchner 48), Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose, Ben Te’o (Ian Madigan 68), Luke Fitzgerald, Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan (Luke McGrath 68); (1-8) Jack McGrath (Peter Dooley 68), Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin 52), Mike Ross (Tadhg Furlong 52), Devin Toner, Mick Kearney (Ross Molony 65), Rhys Ruddock (Jack Conan 73), Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip.

ULSTER RUGBY

(15-9) Jared Payne, Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall (Darren Cave 68), Stuart McCloskey (Stuart Olding 57), Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar (Paul Marshall 75); (1-8) Callum Black (Kyle McCall 46), Rory Best (Rob Herring 73), Ricky Lutton (Andy Warwick 61), Pete Browne (Robbie Diack 65), Franco van der Merwe, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Sean Reidy (Roger Wilson 61).

 

Man of the Match: Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)

Attendance: 19,100

Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)