Madigan adds the final touch to Leinster's revival
Leinster 13 Ulster 9
Just when it looked like the Pro12 would be breaking new ground and going to Parkhead for a final between Glasgow and Ulster, Leinster roused themselves – overcame a nine-point deficit from early in the second half – and squeezed over the line. Ulster must be sick of this trip to Dublin, and it will be Glasgow coming to the RDS on Saturday week for the final.
It was a terrific contest played in good conditions and on a perfect pitch. The crowd – a full house – got full value for money and played their part in creating a tremendous atmosphere. As they went off into the night, they will have reflected on Leinster's capacity to win tight games. Ulster, meantime, despite doing so many things really well, will look back on a chunk of game time spent around the Leinster line, but at the end of 80 minutes they hadn't got over the line. They really need to re-examine how they deal with these situations close-in, for coming around the corner and hitting it up just wasn't cutting it.
Leinster, too, will have an interesting review. They had the comfort of a really good scrum throughout – despite the odd strange decision by Leighton Hodges, one of which went against Cian Healy when you would have put your house on him getting the award in kickable range – but spent what felt like vast tracts of time without the ball.
Yes, their defence held up very well and it was good going not to concede a try given all the Ulster pressure, but Glasgow will offer a different threat in a fortnight. It's unlikely the champions will have Dave Kearney for that encounter, given the pain he was in with a knee injury which saw him carried off late in the game. A scan today will reveal his chances. Brian O'Driscoll was another casualty, going off reluctantly after running into the hip of Iain Henderson.
And what a game he had. Henderson that is. He hasn't always come across as the hungriest forward on the field but he showed all the grunt, embellished by lovely skill, to be a first-class second-row. That the man-of-the-match award went to Ian Madigan – who spent only half an hour on the field – was bizarre. Henderson was the best forward on view. As for the home team, Devin Toner was good but Shane Jennings, whose raw competitive edge makes him the ideal candidate for these fixtures, was terrific.
This is not to suggest that Madigan's contribution was ordinary. Far from it: it was his break, a few minutes after coming on for O'Driscoll, that allowed Jimmy Gopperth get the home team off the mark on 57 minutes. When was the last time it took Leinster that long to score? To give you an idea of why that was, they didn't have an attempt on goal at all in the first half when Ulster were very good – well, very good until they got to within 10 metres of the Leinster line.
They missed their first shot – a long-range effort from Ruan Pienaar – after just three minutes, but Paddy Jackson nailed his two opportunities on seven and 40 minutes.
It was 6-0 to Ulster at the break by which point Gordon D'Arcy had served half his sentence in the sin bin after preventing Tommy Bowe from taking a quick penalty. By the time D'Arcy came back on the field Leinster's predicament had got no worse, but then he was done at a ruck on 54 minutes – which Jackson punished to put Ulster 9-0 ahead. On another night and with a different ref it could have been worse.
Madigan's arrival for O'Driscoll at least gave the home team some real gas in the middle and he looked like he thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Having opened the door for Gopperth's first penalty, he was at the heart of every Leinster attack. Seven minutes later Gopperth nailed another one – against replacement Dan Tuohy – and the home crowd could feel deliverance at hand.
Mind you, they had to survive a few more assaults from Ulster, but they looked like they knew they had blown it. The confirmation came on 72 minutes when Madigan struck again, taking a lovely line off Gopperth 30 metres out and then arcing outside Craig Gilroy to touch down. Gopperth's conversion made it 13-9 to Leinster. Ulster rallied again and yet again took up residence around the Leinster five-metre line. It came to an end when Jared Payne was penalised for losing the ball forward. Leinster still had some defending to do, but they managed it successfully.
Scorers – Leinster: Madigan try; Gopperth 2 pens, con. Ulster: P Jackson 3 pens.
Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden (Z Kirchner 67), B O'Driscoll (I Madigan 50), G D'Arcy (yc 34-44), D Kearney (L McGrath 69); J Gopperth, E Reddan; C Healy (J McGrath 67), S Cronin (A Dundon 79), M Moore (M Ross 56), D Toner, Q Roux, R Ruddock (S O'Brien 56), J Heaslip (capt), S Jennings.
Ulster: C Gilroy; T Bowe, J Payne, D Cave (L Marshall 56), A Trimble, A Trimble; P Jackson (J McKinney 56), R Pienaar; C Black, R Best, R Lutton, J Muller (capt)(D Tuohy 56), I Henderson, R Diack, R Wilson, C Henry (S Doyle 69).
Referee: L Hodges (Wales).
Sunday Indo Sport