Leinster still in hunt for back-to-back titles following win over Ulster
Leinster 13 Ulster 9
Published 17/05/2014 | 21:20
Leinster are still in the hunt for back-to-back titles after a gritty win against an Ulster side who have forgotten how to win big knock-out games - especially ones against Leinster.
However, Brian O'Driscoll is in danger of missing his big send-off in two weeks's time against Glasgow after shipping a heavy knock.
Fergus McFadden is also in danger of missing the final after damaging his ankle in an attritional, typically error-strewn semi-final.
Ian Madigan, ironically O'Driscoll's replacement, was the try-scoring hero, running in with just eight minutes left on the clock after a terrific burst from out-half Jimmy Gopperth's pass.
Ulster made a ferociously committed start and, while Ruan Pienaar missed a long-range effort after just three minutes, Paddy Jackson made no mistake from a much easier position moments later for a deserve lead.
They should have led by more as they denied Leinster a visit to their 22 until the 16th minute as the home side struggled, as they have done all season, to discover any consistent momentum to their game.
Sadly, there was little momentum to the first-half, one dogged by re-sets, inane TMO interventions and a surfeit of errors from highly-paid decorated professionals.
The half ended with another Jackson penalty, a 6-0 half-time lead; there was little to report in between.
Leinster made a few breaks but achieved nothing for their initial penetration, constantly turning over ball with gleeful profligacy.
Gordon D'Arcy summed up his side's ineptitude, dumbly charging at Tommy Bowe as he attempted to take a free-kick; D'Arcy saw the bin. Much of the rugby deserved the same punishment.
Even the great Brian O'Driscoll was dragged down in the morass, kicking the ball away, missing tackles and knocking on. It was grim; only the supporters' wonderful fervour on both sides maintained a modicum of excitement.
O'Driscoll's departure with what seemed like another concussive impact dampened the home mood even further; as did another inane mistake from D'Arcy at a ruck in the 53rd minute.
Jackson punished his indiscretion one more and, at 9-0 in such a tight game against an impotent attack, it seemed like a healthy cushion.
Leinster needed something big to happen; it did in the shape of Sean O'Brien lumbering from the bench.
He made an immediate impact, dovetailing well with O'Driscoll's replacement, Ian Madigan; Callum Black conceded a penalty and Jimmy Gopperth nailed the kick for Leinster's opening score.
Amazingly, it had taken 57 minutes to arrive.
Encouraged by this, Leinster foraged as Ulster lost courage. Five minutes later, they lost a lineout on their own five-metre line; a ruck offence allowed Gopperth the chance for 6-9. He nailed it.
The game was in the balance and super sub Ian Madigan ensured it tipped Leinster's way, surging towards the line against some tired defending for the game's first touchdown.
Gopperth's conversion was crucial, meaning Ulster needed a try of their own to seal a comeback that they should never have had to mount.
Yet again, it was a bridge too far. For them, another bridge of sighs.
Leinster – R Kearney; F McFadden (Z Kirchner 67), B O'Driscoll (I Madigan 49), G D'Arcy, D Kearney (L McGrath 69); J Gopperth, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin (A Dundon 79), M Moore (M Ross 56); D Toner, Q Roux (L Cullen 56); R Ruddock (S O'Brien 56), S Jennings, J Heaslip capt. Ulster – C Gilroy; T Bowe, J Payne, D Cave (L Marshall 56), A Trimble, P Jackson (J McKinney 56), R Pienaar; C Black, R Best, R Lutton (A Warwick 61); J Muller capt (D Tuohy 58), I Henderson; R Diack, C Henry (S Doyle 69), R Wilson. REF – L Hodges (WRU) ends