Leinster overcome injury obstacles to derail Ulster
Ulster 10 Leinster 25
Ulster fly out to South Africa this week, to face the Kings in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, and take with them the fresh memory of a disgruntled Kingspan crowd. Scoreless in the second half, the home side had an awkward soundtrack in the background: a mix of groans and silence.
In a fixture that has gone the way of the home side over the last three seasons, Leinster overcame early injuries and a man in the bin to win with plenty to spare.
This was Rory Best's 200th game for his province. He won't reflect on it with any pleasure.
For Leinster, it was the worst of starts and the handiest of finishes. First they lost Noel Reid, who took a heavy dunt in a tackle and went off for a HIA from which he didn't return. And quickly enough he was followed by James Ryan, for whom the HIA was superfluous: he was all over the place in trying to stand up after a tackle.
It hadn't been part of the Leinster plan to have to use two of their replacements inside 12 minutes. The silver lining on the cloud was that Jordan Larmour took full advantage of his early bonus.
His first involvement wasn't too auspicious - picking up a Rob Kearney spillage from an offside position - and on his second he followed the textbook drill in sitting down the last defender to put Dave Kearney away, only for the wing to be nailed. On his third he silenced the crowd of 17,631.
There wasn't a lot on when in the 16th minute he got the ball wide, just inside the Ulster half. Two sidesteps later - Iain Henderson and Aaron Cairns were his victims - and we were looking at a different picture. It's not yet Halloween and we may have just seen the best finish of the season. Leinster were trailing to a Christian Lealiifano penalty at the time so Ross Byrne's conversion gave them a 7-3 lead. In the circumstances it was a really good piece of business.
And they kept it going, despite Sean Reidy putting the home side ahead when he drove successfully off an advancing set-piece. It was the ninth scrum of the game and the first where either side had gotten a clear advantage.
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On 31 minutes, however, Byrne pulled back another three points for Leinster to make it 10-10, and then just before the break he picked up another three to give them a three-point lead going to the changing rooms. That second strike came after his side had camped close to the Ulster line and looked like getting more than the three points on a penalty advantage for rear-foot offside.
They would have gone further ahead early in the second half after a lovely move put Gibson-Park in possession close to the Ulster line but his pass to Dave Kearney was slapped down by Piutau to save the try. But it illustrated the threat of this Leinster backline, which was complemented by a rapidly improving scrum.
The problem was that their lineout started imitating going through the horrors.
And then they lost yet another man - this time to the bin when Dave Kearney slapped down a pass meant for Lealiifano. Even though it was a long way from home it could have yielded something for Ulster but for Kearney's intervention.
By the time he came back his team were looking even better. A good combination between Adam Byrne and man of the match Sean O'Brien down Ulster's left flank - after Rodney Ah You had spilled on the carry - made some space for replacement scrum-half Luke McGrath to get over in the corner. Ross Byrne couldn't add the extras but their eight-point lead left Ulster needing to score twice.
It was hard to see how they were going to do that with a set-piece that was going from bad to worse. The scrum wasn't a catastrophe but at less than 60 per cent the lineout was just that. Add in that Leinster had the breeze and recently arrived squalls at their back, and it was a struggle for them.
As it turned out the only other score was for the away side, a typical short-range effort from McGrath, who showed great strength to get over off the back of a ruck.
Scorers - Ulster: Reidy try; Lealiifano pen, con. Leinster: L McGrath 2 tries, Larmour try each; Byrne 2 pens, con, Marsh con
Ulster: C Piutau; T Bowe, L Marshall, S McCloskey (L Ludik 70), J Stockdale; C Lealiifano (P Nelson 67), A Cairns (J Stewart 62); C Black (A Warwick 56), R Best (R Herring 56), R Ah You (R Kane 74), A O'Connor (K Treadwell 62), I Henderson (capt), S Reidy, J Deysel (R Diack 17), C Henry.
Leinster: R Kearney; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, N Reid (J Larmour 4), D Kearney (yc 56-66); R Byrne (C Marsh 76), J Gibson-Park (L McGrath 56); J McGrath (C Healy 48), J Tracy (R Strauss 67), T Furlong (A Porter 61), D Toner, J Ryan (R Molony 12), D Leavy (J Conan 56), S O'Brien (capt), J Murphy.
Referee: J Lacey (IRFU).
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