Leinster finally hit top form as third quarter blitz blows Ulster away
Leinster 30 Ulster 18
It has been a long time since the RDS shook as it did tonight but for Ulster it was a familiar feeling of old as Leinster sent them packing back up the M1 empty handed once again.
The Leinster supporters have been crying out for their side to play with the kind of intensity that asked questions of the Ulster defence all evening and they got what they asked for in abundance.
With the 30-6 drubbing at Kingspan Park fresh in the minds as well as Ulster’s assistant coach Joe Barakat’s comments that Leinster’s attack was “predictable”, they set out about setting the record straight and did so by scoring the same amount of points as they had conceded three weeks ago.
It’s often easy to suggest that when Johnny Sexton plays well so too do Leinster and indeed Ireland but when he is in this kind of form, he is simply irresistible.
Not only did Sexton have a 100pc record from the tee but his kicking out of hand regularly pinned Ulster back and stifled their momentum.
It was a vintage display from Sexton but then again there were few in blue who didn’t stand up when it mattered most.
Jack McGrath continued his outstanding season with another huge shift while Jamie Heaslip typically got through a mountain of work.
The game ebbed and flowed until Leinster took control after 47 minutes when they really gained control of proceedings.
Craig Gilroy’s first of two tries on the stroke of half time had put his side right back in the game after a nervy opening but it was mere false hope as Ulster’s 10-year wait for a trophy goes on.
Ulster simply could not live with Leinster’s intensity early on and with Sexton - who it must be said benefited hugely from immaculate service from Eoin Reddan - dictating the tempo, the home side were rewarded with a try after just five minutes.
Ruan Pienaar failed to clear his lines and his poor box kick was punished when Leinster went through the phases before Reddan’s bullet pass found Isa Nacewa, who easily stepped inside Gilroy and the oncoming Jared Payne to scramble over the line.
Sexton’s conversion put Leinster into a 7-0 lead and it was no more than they deserved as they continued to pile on the pressure.
Chris Henry was penalised for not rolling away 10 minutes later after a really clever tackle from McGrath.
Sexton fired over the resulting penalty and did the same shortly after to give his side a 13-point advantage.
But just as it looked like Leinster could pull away from Ulster, the visitors slowly clawed their way back into the contest with Iain Henderson and Stuart McCloskey's physicality allowing them to gain a foothold.
It took all of 19 minutes for Ulster to mount a meaningful attack into Leinster territory but as soon as it came, their threat was clear to see.
Luke Marshall thought he was clean through but a brilliant last ditch tackle by Rhys Ruddock stopped what was a certain try.
Ulster kept the ball alive but Ben Te’o bundled Henderson into touch as Leinster stemmed the flow.
Les Kiss’ side grew in confidence however and when Mick Kearney went off his feet, they were handed an easy route back into the game.
Jackson duly stepped up to put Ulster on the board with the penalty after 26 minutes and he did so again shortly after when Leinster were penalised under their own posts for hands in the ruck.
Referee Ian Davies opted to keep his yellow card in his pocket for what looked like cynical play but nevertheless the gap was back to seven (13-6).
The momentum had well and truly shifted in Ulster’s favour and just like their opponents had done at the start of the half, they took full advantage.
Pienaar made up for his error in the build up to Nacewa’s try with a brilliant pick and go off the base of a ruck and suddenly the Leinster defence was scrambling.
Jackson swept the ball wide and Gilroy somehow managed to keep his feet in play and score in the corner despite the best efforts of Dave Kearney.
Leinster’s two-point half lead (13-11) was quickly added to as seven minutes after the restart, they struck with another quite brilliant try.
Garry Ringrose’s dancing feet created the initial space. Ringrose found Sexton who shoveled the ball on to Te’o who gave yet another reminder of the quality that Leinster will miss when he joins Worcester next season.
Two Ulster tacklers couldn’t stop Te’o, whose sumptuous offload found Jamie Heaslip and Jackson was never going to stop the number eight from such close range.
Sexton had been down receiving treatment to his hip but the out-half dusted himself off and converted the try to put Leinster back into a nine-point lead.
Cullen introduced Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong from the bench and the fresh legs made an immediate impact as a powerful Leinster shove forced a scrum penalty.
Sexton was again on hand to punish Ulster’s indiscipline as the hosts stretched their lead and with it, regained the control that they had asserted in the opening quarter.
An emphatic victory was made sure of after 65 minutes when Cronin, one of those pairs of fresh legs that made a huge difference, barrelled his way over the whitewash after Leinster had demolished Ulster in a couple of scrums.
Sexton’s conversion maintained his flawless record with the boot as Leinster went about heaping the kind of misery that their opponents had inflicted on them in Belfast.
Gilroy did his best to ensure that didn’t happen when he ghosted in off his wing to collect Pienaar’s pass and score his second try of a pulsating game.
Jackson’s conversion left the score 30-18 but with only 10 minutes left on the clock, time was very much against Ulster.
And so it proved as Leinster sealed their place in next Saturday’s final in Edinburgh.
They await the winners of tomorrow’s other semi-final between Connacht and Glasgow but in this kind of form, they will travel to the Scottish capital brimming with confidence.
Leinster - I Nacewa (capt) (Z Kirchner 49); D Kearney, G Ringrose, B Te'o (I Madigan 69), L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan (L McGrath 69); J McGrath (P Dooley 69), R Strauss (S Cronin 52), M Ross (T Furlong 52); D Toner, M Kearney (R Molony 66); R Ruddock (J Conan 73), J Murphy, J Heaslip.
Ulster - J Payne; A Trimble, L Marshall (D Cave 69), S McCloskey (S Olding 58), C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 76); C Black (K McCall 46), R Best (capt) (R Herring 73), R Lutton (A Warwick 7-11, 62); P Browne (R Diack 66), F van der Merwe; I Henderson, C Henry, S Reidy (R Wilson 62).
REF - I Davies (WRU).