Ulster finish season on a high as Pienaar gets winning send-off against Leinster
Ulster 17 Leinster 13
He would have preferred to go out with a medal in his back-pocket, but a win over Leinster at a sun-kissed Kingspan Stadium will have to do for Ruan Pienaar.
The Springbok didn’t want to leave Belfast, but leave he must and the locals were determined to see him off in some style.
This was a facile victory given the play-offs were beyond them and Leinster still have a home semi-final against Scarlets in two weeks’ time as they fell below Munster into second on the table.
It was a poor game, strewn with errors and terrible lineout play but the home fans got a much-needed lift at the end of a troubled season ahead of a summer of change.
Pienaar’s IRFU-enforced exit is just one of the many changes coming down the track for Les Kiss and this ambitious outfit who have fallen well short this year.
Joey Carbery opened the scoring from the tee after a high tackle on James Tracy, but Ulster responded by spending a concerted period in Leinster territory and turned down a shot at goal to go for a scrum when Leinster strayed offside.
From the solid set-piece, Pienaar sent Stuart McCloskey up the middle and Roger Wilson picked from the subsequent ruck and crashed over to mark his final appearance for his home province with a try.
Paddy Jackson converted and Carbery struck the post with an eminently kickable penalty before Wilson handed him another, easier opportunity when he failed to roll away an the Auckland-born fly-half made no mistake.
Both teams had spells of pressure, but their accuracy let them down and Jackson’s penalty on the stroke of half-time brought a poor half to an end with Ulster four points up.
Jack Conan made a rare clean break after the interval, brushing off Ricky Lutton’s attempted tackle but his attempted pass to Isa Nacewa was brilliantly intercepted by Charles Piutau who then kicked possession away.
The All Black made a fine break up the right, but then failed to spot Jackson on his inside but the second score came in the moments that followed as the home side put together a long series of phases in Leinster’s ’22.
First, their maul marched forward before Luke Marshall broke Joey Carbery’s tackle. Andrew Trimble made gains up the right, while Chris Henry’s off-load to Jackson almost saw him score. After the forwards had failed to get over from close-range, Pienaar pulled a sumptuous cross-kick from his repertoire and Trimble scored in the corner.
Jackson converted, but Leinster almost cancelled the score out within two minutes as Leo Cullen replaced half of his pack and Cian Healy thought he’d made an instant impact but Lutton and Chris Henry got under him to hold him up.
The Ireland loosehead wouldn’t be deterred and was a leading member of the pack that earned a penalty try from the resultant scrum. Healy turned the screw on Lutton and referee Andrew Brace had little choice when he was forced to award a third scrum penalty against the hosts and headed for the posts.
Carbery reduced the gap to four points with the conversion and Leinster might have gone in front almost immediately from the kick-off as the counter-attacked well from within their own half but Fergus McFadden’s final pass to Luke McGrath didn’t stick.
Both sides were going for it, Garry Ringrose made a trademark outside break to get Leinster in position but then Jacob Stockdale couldn’t hold on as he attempted to intercept Noel Reid’s pass with open field in front of him.
That ended up being the last of the chances as UIster managed to negotiate their way to full-time without incident.
ULSTER - C Gilroy (J Stockdale 48), A Trimble (capt), L Marshall, S McCloskey, C Piutau (P Nelson 58); P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 69); A Warwick (K McCall 67), R Herring (J Andrew 76), R Ah You (R Lutton 31); K Treadwell (N Timoney 68), A O'Connor; R Diack, S Reidy (C Henry 53-59), R Wilson (C Henry 63).
LEINSTER - I Nacewa (capt); A Byrne, G Ringrose, N Reid (R O’Loughlin 73, F McFadden; J Carbery, L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 64); J McGrath (C Healy 57), J Tracy (R Strauss 57), T Furlong (A Porter 67); D Toner, H Triggs (R Molony 57); R Ruddock, J van der Flier (D Leavy 57), J Conan.
Ref - A Brace (IRFU)