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Leinster stamp authority on Ulster

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Luke Fitzgerald finds himself
outnumbered by Andrew
Trimble and Adam D'Arcy as
he battles to win possession.

Luke Fitzgerald finds himself outnumbered by Andrew Trimble and Adam D'Arcy as he battles to win possession.

Luke Fitzgerald finds himself outnumbered by Andrew Trimble and Adam D'Arcy as he battles to win possession.

Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki have both toppled No 1s in their respective sports -- but they didn't see Ulster do the same as Brian McLaughlin's Ravenhill farewell ended in a damp squib last night.

The supreme sporty couple would surely have approved of Leinster, though, as they compiled the interprovincial equivalent of tennis and golf's Holy Grail -- the Grand Slam.

Leinster will feel good about themselves ahead of next week's more important assignment.

Ulster, nursing defeat and a trio of injury scares, presumably less so.

Chris Henry was on crutches at the end of the game, Paddy Wallace has suspected concussion and Pedrie Wannenburg shipped a heavy blow. All three are doubtful for the game that really matters to them, next week's Heineken Cup semi-final against Edinburgh. Not the Ravenhill farewell that ditched head coach McLaughlin was searching for.

An early breakthrough on the scoreboard franked Leinster's initial domination of the physical exchanges, although nobody would have been more surprised than the teak-tough Ulster defence by the ease with which the visitors tore through their ranks to score their first and only try.

From a midfield scrum, Sean O'Brien was allowed to gambol free with impunity, before a delicious inside ball to the hard-running Fergus McFadden rendered the distance from the half-way line to the '22' a mere hop, skip and jump.

From there, Ulster's back-foot defence was struggling as Leinster launched a series of swift recycles, always changing the point of attack, before a neat sideline shimmy from Eoin Reddan skipped Dominic Ryan and allowed Kevin McLaughlin to thunder home.

Only eight minutes had elapsed and, with Jonathan Sexton adding the extras, Leinster immediately had the buffer they were looking for as they sought to limit the swagger of their fellow Heineken Cup semi-finalists.

struggled

They didn't have it all their own way, though. John Lacey's peculiar interpretations of Mike Ross' scrummaging technique confused not only the Corkman as Leinster struggled with their set-piece.

Hence, Ross would have been eminently satisfied when the first scrum after the break, as is often the way, convincingly swung his and Cian Healy's way as they effected a turnover.

Tom Court too, though, would have his day and, with Declan Fitzpatrick offering solace after a five-month absence, that provided at least some cheer to McLaughlin as he frets upon his other wounded heroes.

Elsewhere, Richardt Strauss was not entirely convincing from touch and it would be his errant over-throw that would ultimately allow Ulster to rein in the European champions in the second quarter of the game.

Until then, Ulster had been struggling to get into scoring territory and, when they first managed it, thanks to Luke Fitzgerald's horrible knock-on, they were unable to seize the moment, predominantly due to excellent Leinster defence.

Paddy Jackson, with a no-look pass to midfield partner Wallace who, sadly, was also not looking, indicated the nascent desperation in their play as they struggled to breach the blue wall.

However, Leinster's self-imposed folly would allow their opponents right back into things, stemming from Strauss' overthrow on half-way, from which Ulster steamed through the back-pedalling Leinster defence.

Strauss -- with Gert Smal and Declan Kidney eager observers -- was still licking his wounds by the time some delicious handling from Wallace allowed captain Muller to crash over the helpless Rob Kearney to claim his debut try for Ulster.

It was a dubious score to the neutral's eye, but it lifted the spirits of a home crowd, who ceased their quest to locate local hero McIlroy and femme, even if Pienaar added to an earlier uncharacteristic penalty miss by skewing his conversion attempt.

But the glad tidings were overshadowed by worrying portents as the influential Henry -- surely a Smal target for this summer's tour -- and Wallace departed the fray prematurely.

Both may have been precautionary as Henry walked a little uncomfortably with a shin problem; Wallace's woe looked like concussion, as he walked groggily from the sward.

Few in professional rugby admit to such an ailment these days, sadly; Wallace has taken more than enough physical punishment in recent years and one hopes he can recover by next Saturday.

With the mercurial Jackson growing in confidence, evidenced by a series of shimmies on receipt of the kick-off following his side's try, Ulster were momentarily buoyant.

However, Leinster scored next, Sexton slotting a penalty after Wannenburg decided to take a nap on slow ruck ball.

Pienaar made it third time lucky when Strauss was penalised by Lacey, increasing Leinster's obvious frustration at the breakdown interpretations, and Ulster seemed set to head to the sheds just a couple of points in arrears.

However, they made the fatal error of failing to clear their lines from the resultant kick-off, erring in bringing the ball back into their '22' and thence to touch; Willie Faloon's error allowed Sexton to edge his side 13-8 ahead at the break.

Ulster started the second period well, but Leinster rebuffed their attempts resoundingly, Brad Thorn's immense tackle on Wannenburg, coupled with O'Brien's brilliant snaffle laying down a resilient early marker.

Sadly, that would be Wannenburg's last Ravenhill act; his departure, the third such unscheduled exit, was threatening to overshadow everything else that was happening here from an Ulster perspective.

Leinster, protecting their lead with Sexton's drop-goal the solitary second-half score, and their front-liners, defended with minimal fuss to secure the victory.

Game, set and match, you might say.

Ulster -- S Terblanche; A Trimble (I Humphries 76), D Cave, P Wallace (A D'Arcy 34), C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar (I Porter 69); T Court (P McAllister 61), N Brady (A Kyricaou 61), D Fitzpatrick (A Macklin 56); J Muller (capt), L Stevenson; C Henry (R Diack 18), W Faloon, P Wannenburg (N McComb 50).

Leinster -- R Kearney (F Carr 68); D Kearney, B O'Driscoll, F McFadden, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton (I Madigan 73), E Reddan (I Boss 57); C Healy (H van der Merwe 57), R Strauss (S Cronin 61), M Ross (N White 68); L Cullen (capt), B Thorn (D Toner 73); K McLaughlin, D Ryan, S O'Brien (S Jennings 61).

REF -- John Lacey (IRFU).

Irish Independent