Marcus Rea bags match-winning try on debut as Ulster hold on to beat Leinster
Ulster 14 Leinster 13
MOST of the 17,358 in attendance at the Kingspan Stadium bought their tickets when it looked like there might be something at stake. Instead, they were treated to a dead rubber with little bounce.
Two second-string teams, packed with players whose season ended at full-time, played out an error-strewn 80 minutes memorable only for the quick feet of Ulster full-back Michael Lowry and the questionable decision not to send Fergus McFadden off after 14 minutes.
The home crowd went home happy after a rare win over their neighbours to the south, but for coach Dan McFarland and his opposite number Leo Cullen it was a case of quickly moving on. Ulster host Connacht here next week in a PRO14 quarter-final, while Leinster switch focus to their Champions Cup final against Saracens on Saturday week.
With so little on the line, it was no surprise that both sides started slowly with Ross Byrne's long-range miss the closest either side came to scoring in the first 30 minutes.
There was at least some controversy to warm the crowd up as referee George Clancy went upstairs for a look at McFadden's off-the-ball altercation with Sean Reidy.
Replays suggested the Leinster winger had head-butted his fellow Ireland international, but the officials deemed the wide-angle footage as inconclusive and limited the punishment to a penalty.
Certainly, the locals felt the action merited a red card and McFadden could face further sanction.
The game finally burst into life as half-time approached. Noel Reid had to be alert to win a breakdown penalty after Lowry latched on to Johnny McPhillips' chip ahead and, having avoided the danger, Leinster went up the other end and scored.
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They were rewarded for holding on to the ball through 15 good phases before Reid kept the ball alive brilliantly and Byrne floated a pass wide for Jimmy O'Brien to score in the corner.
Byrne missed his conversion and the home side responded almost immediately as Darren Cave put Dave Shanahan through an initial gap and, when he recycled possession, McPhillips worked the ball down the blindside where Lowry stepped inside Josh Murphy and found Shanahan again.
This time, the Dubliner slipped out of Dave Kearney and Caelan Doris's tackle and powered through Nick McCarthy to score.
McPhillips converted, but Byrne put Leinster back in front when Ian Nagle played Oisin Dowling in the air and another piece of Ulster ill-discipline on the cusp of half-time gave the visitors a chance to extend their lead.
Rather than adding another penalty, Byrne went to touch. The maul didn't make progress and the fly-half appeared to have killed the move when he hesitated and then slipped, but again Reid came up with another killer moment as he held the defence with a dummy and then found McFadden who powered over to the chagrin of his hosts.
Byrne's missed conversion kept the gap within seven points and Ulster came out swinging after half-time.
But, for all of their effort, they struggled to break a Leinster rear-guard that was as content to give up penalties as Ulster were to pass up kicks at goal.
A couple of scrum penalties under the posts came and went before Oisin Dowling eventually saw yellow for a repeat infringement, but even down to 14 men the blue wall held with Alan O'Connor going closest when he was held up by Doris over the line.
Eventually, the pressure told as, after 31 aimless phases, Marcus Rea took matters into his own hands by picking from the base of the ruck and powering through McCarthy and Doris to score.
Peter Nelson converted and, although Barry Daly went close and injured himself in the process, Ulster saw it out.
ULSTER – M Lowry; D Busby, D Cave (capt), P Nelson, A Kernohan; J McPhillips (J Owens 58), D Shanahan (J Stewart 58); A Warwick (T O'Hagan 65), J Andrew (A McBurney ), R Kane (T O'Toole 42); I Nagle, A O'Connor (N Timoney 63); Matty Rea, C Ross, S Reidy (Marcus Rea 16).
LEINSTER – J O'Brien; F McFadden (B Daly 62) (P Patterson 69), J Tomane, N Reid, D Kearney; R Byrne (C Frawley 44), N McCarthy; J McGrath (P Dooley 44), B Byrne (R Kelleher 54), M Bent (V Abdaladze 64); O Dowling (R Baird 65), J Murphy; M Deegan (S Penny 62), W Connors, C Doris.
Ref: G Clancy (IRFU)