Leinster dismantle fortress Ravenhill
ULSTER 13 LEINSTER 30
Published 28/12/2010 | 05:00
The odds have been cut on Sean O'Brien making his first Six Nations start for Ireland in February following his barnstorming man-of-the-match performance in helping Leinster dismantle Ulster at Ravenhill.
O'Brien, playing at No 8, was everywhere. Driving relentlessly with ball in hand and making jaw-shuddering tackles are now just part of his CV.
The 23-year-old from Carlow was part of a very balanced and young back-row unit that had the drop on its Ulster counterparts.
It was up front that Leinster did the real damage; a concerted effort from Leo Cullen and his pack won the battle at the breakdown, and in most other areas of conflict.
Isaac Boss would have smiled broadly afterwards after out-playing the player brought in to replace him. Springbok Ruan Pienaar has yet to really make his mark in an Ulster jersey and the crowd let him know it.
Leinster were deserving winners, even if Ulster allowed O'Brien to steal in with two early tries.
Leinster appeared to step on the gas at will, with Isa Nacewa enjoying his role in the No 15 jersey and Shaun Berne directing operations at out-half.
As for Ulster, they have still a long, long way to go before their season can be deemed a success.
They had little imagination in the first half, and even less in the second. Yet again they were guilty of too many basic errors in the wrong part of the field.
Playing with the stiff breeze blowing straight down the park, Leinster rarely allowed Ulster out of their own half in the opening quarter and soon took advantage of some poor defensive work, which allowed O'Brien to nick a couple of tries.
Firstly in the eighth minute, Ulster looked to have stemmed a series of drives by Leinster when O'Brien found a yawning gap at a ruck to skip through unimpeded to the line.
It was a similar story 10 minutes later: this time it was Boss who put O'Brien through another big hole with only the dithering BJ Botha to beat in an uninterrupted run under the posts. Nacewa converted both and Leinster were well and truly up and running.
Ulster had extreme difficulty in getting out of their own half and were often guilty of putting pressure on themselves with basic handling errors and wrong options.
Out-half Niall O'Connor managed to claw back a penalty in the 22nd minute but that was matched by Nacewa five minutes later.
Ulster finally began to get away from their zig-zag, across-the-field mode late in the half but came away with only another O'Connor penalty.
In the run-up to half-time, Nacewa again put 14 points between the sides when he slotted over a penalty after Botha was penalised for dropping a scrum.
Unlike Leinster, it took Ulster nearly 15 minutes to get into their opponents' half when they had use of the strong wind. By that time, Nacewa had stretched the lead with his third penalty.
Leinster's attack-oriented mindset into the wind paid further dividends in the 57th minute when they grabbed their third try, Shane Horgan the extra man as the Ulster defence were sucked in to stop a great succession of pick-and-drives by the visitors' pack.
Nacewa converted and that, virtually, was that. It was now a case of searching for that bonus-point try, but it was Ulster who finished the stronger.
Their best piece of action of the evening saw an excellent string of passing finally reach Craig Gilroy, who raced in at the corner for his fifth try in three starts.
O'Connor converted to end the scoring on a cold night on which both teams had to resort to washing their pains away in nearby sinks after the showers were deemed out of action due to frozen pipes.
Ulster -- A D'Arcy; C Gilroy, N Spence, I Whitten (L Marshall 64), S Danielli; N O'Connor (P Marshall 71), R Pienaar (T Seymour, 76); P McAllister (B Young 52), N Brady (Kyriacou 52), BJ Botha (D Fitzpatrick 71); J Muller (Capt), D Tuohy; P Wannenburg, C Henry (W Faloon 64), R Diack (T Barker 58).
Leinster -- I Nacewa; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (I Madigan 65), F McFadden, D Kearney (A Conway 65); S Berne, I Boss; H van der Merwe, J Harris-Wright (A Dundon 73), M Ross (C Newland 76); L Cullen (Capt), D Toner; R Ruddock, D Ryan, S O'Brien (B Marshall 73).
Ref -- G Clancy (IRFU).