Wednesday 18 October 2017

Schmidt frustrated as Ulster edge thriller

LEINSTER 18 ULSTER 22

BRENDAN FANNING at the RDS

If you were a part of the full house in the RDS last night then you will have considered it time well spent. In near perfect conditions on a track that a week ago had to be forked to get the water off, Leinster and Ulster gave us a compelling encounter that finished in bizarre circumstances.

If you were a part of the full house in the RDS last night then you will have considered it time well spent. In near perfect conditions on a track that a week ago had to be forked to get the water off, Leinster and Ulster gave us a compelling encounter that finished in bizarre circumstances.

Referee George Clancy, who came in for some pointed criticism from Joe Schmidt, went upstairs on a call after Sean Cronin had burrowed his way to the line but not over it. The bizarre bit was that it came after the referee had initially blown for full time, and the players were shaking hands after what had been an epic encounter when the decision came back negative.

"To be honest we just wanted to keep it in the scrum," Schmidt said of the endgame when Leinster opted for scrum after scrum when awarded a stack of penalties. "But when front-row is allowed to go down and dive on the ground? There is massive frustration from our side.

"All we ask for is for consistency. We conceded a penalty try from the first scrum that went down at Ravenhill – I'm not sure how many went down out there tonight. To say we are frustrated is an understatement. You'd understand if it was a one off, but we've had pretty contrasting control of the scrum with the same referee in two separate games. Fair play to Ulster, I thought they played really well in the first half especially."

You get the impression Schmidt was more concerned with Clancy's handling of the set-piece than Ulster's creativity in carving out two tries. They almost had a third but for a tight call for a forward pass from Dan Tuohy to Craig Gilroy, who skipped his way over the line. Had that been allowed it would have capped a very good night for the second-row who had provided the killer pass en route to Robbie Diack's score on 22 minutes, which put a hole in the early six-point lead set by Ian Madigan who was flawless with six from six.

The man-of-the-match award went to Ruan Pienaar, who missed both conversions but he knocked over four penalties, the last of which was typical of the man. It was in the 70th minute and Ulster were 19-18 in front, when replacement Andrew Conway got his timing badly wrong in hitting Paddy Jackson – no damage done – in the air. They needed the points to leave Leinster searching for a try. His delivery was nerveless, and thereafter his team conceded penalties knowing that it wouldn't be fatal. Eventually they suffered a yellow card when Jared Payne was binned harshly in time added on for obstruction.

That the win slots Ulster into second place ahead of Leinster – and if they can maintain that position they will have a home draw in the semi-finals – was only part of the story. The downside to having been overhauled at the end was massive. Equally the upside is huge. They go to Saracens on Saturday in the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup, and that trip would have felt like a slog had they not first held out at the RDS.

The fact, unlike Leinster, they were able to make good on their periods of dominance will also please coach Mark Anscombe. They had drawn a blank when they were hammering away at the Leinster line for a good four minutes in the opening period, but the setback didn't unsettle them.

On 55 minutes Anscombe threw Iain Henderson in and the back-rower wasn't long on the field when he delivered a really good try after another surge from the excellent Andrew Trimble, turning a 15-14 deficit into a 19-15 lead.

Madigan closed that to a point with his sixth penalty on 69 minutes, but despite owning the ball from there to that finish deep into extra time, they couldn't get what they needed.

Scorers – Leinster: Madigan 6 pens. Ulster: Diack, Henderson try; Pienaar 4 pens.

Leinster: R Kearney; D Kearney, B Macken (A Conway 37), A Goodman, I Nacewa; I Madigan, I Boss (J Cooney 74); C Healy, R Strauss (S Cronin 58), M Ross (J Hagan 66), Q Roux (L Cullen 52), D Toner, K McLaughlin (R Ruddock 66), J Heaslip, S Jennings.

Ulster: J Payne (yc 80); A Trimble (P Nelson 75), D Cave, S Olding, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court (C Black 70), R Best, R Lutton (K McCall 70), J Muller (capt), D Tuohy, R Diack, N Williams (I Henderson 55), C Henry (R Wilson 63).

Referee: G Clancy (IRFU)

Irish Independent

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