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Second-string Leinster still too strong for Ulster as Blues march on

Ulster 10 Leinster 28

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Harry Byrne of Leinster scores his side's third try despite the tackle of Marcell Coetzee of Ulster during the Guinness PRO14 Round 15 match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Harry Byrne of Leinster scores his side's third try despite the tackle of Marcell Coetzee of Ulster during the Guinness PRO14 Round 15 match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Harry Byrne of Leinster scores his side's third try despite the tackle of Marcell Coetzee of Ulster during the Guinness PRO14 Round 15 match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Business as usual for Leinster then, as even having made 15 changes, their second-string side were too good for a sloppy Ulster outfit, who for the second week running looked out of sorts.

Back-to-back defeats means that Ulster will go into next weekend's PRO14 semi-final against Edinburgh desperately looking to rediscover their pre-lockdown form.

Dan McFarland will be sweating over the fitness of Jacob Stockdale and Jordi Murphy for that last four clash after the Ireland pair both limped off in the second half.

Leinster on the other hand, have no such concerns as they ensured that they finished the regular regular league campaign by winning their 15th game on the bounce, which stretches their staggering unbeaten season to 21 games.

Leo Cullen was able to wrap his big guns in cotton wool before they return to the Aviva on Friday evening for a last four clash against Munster – should they get at least two points from their meeting with Connacht tomorrow. If not, Scarlets lie in wait.

A good night at the office for Leinster was made even better by the sight of Dan Leavy and James Ryan taking a full part in the warm-up.

Both Ireland internationals are nearing a return to action as Cullen continues to be spoilt for choice in terms of his selection.

The Leinster head coach will have a fair idea of his starting team for next week, but the likes of man-of-the-match Ciaran Frawley, Ed Byrne, Josh Murphy and Will Connors served up a timely reminder of their quality.

Late tries from young replacements Scott Penny and Harry Byrne sealed the win, as Ulster were left to pay the price for a scrappy performance that was littered with silly penalty concessions.

Ed Byrne, who was captaining his home province for the first time, marked what was a special occasion for him with a third minute try that really set the tone.

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The danger all stemmed form Frawley's clever kick in behind the on-rushing Ulster defence as the impressive young centre replicated Robbie Henshaw's move for Garry Ringrose's try last week.

Ulster were left scrambling and when Frawley won the loose ball back, Leinster stayed patient and worked their way through the phases before Byrne powered over from close range having been helped over the line by a strong latch from Max Deegan.

Ross Byrne converted his name sake's early try and the out-half added a 14th minute penalty for good measure after Kieran Treadwell was penalised for a deliberate knock on.

Ulster were really struggling to gain a foothold in the game and as their unforced error count rose, their cause wasn't helped by captain Sam Carter coughing up a cheap penalty midway through the opening half.

Ross Byrne duly stepped up to punish the error to push his side into a 13-0 lead.

Ulster eventually made their way into the Leinster 22 but their execution was poor again as Ross Molony plucked the ball from Treadwell's grasp from a five-metre lineout.

The relentless Connors continued to chop tackle anything that moved in front of him, with his back-row partners Murphy and Max Deegan really hunting well as a pack.

Leinster's 13-0 half-time lead was stretched by three shortly after the restart as Byrne punished further poor Ulster discipline by brilliantly bisecting the posts from 40-metres.

Just as it looked like Leinster might pull away, Ulster finally clicked into gear and got themselves on the scoreboard on the back of a really well-worked set-piece try.

Having turned down the three points on offer, Ulster's brave call was rewarded as Herring dotted down after a powerful rolling maul marched Leinster backwards.

John Cooney added the extras to bring Ulster back to 16-7 after 55 minutes.

Stockdale and Murphy's premature departures briefly stunted Ulster's momentum as Leinster handed a debut to their latest exciting prospect, Ireland U-20s tighthead Tom Clarkson.

Both teams rang the changes and it was Leinster who were slower to adapt as Cooney added a penalty to cut the gap again to 16-10 with 12 minutes still left on the clock.

Leinster regrouped however, and made the win safe thanks to a really clever try through Penny, who had only just come off the bench.

A brilliant cross-field kick by Harry Byrne found space in behind and Penny hared onto the ball and scored.

Frawley's conversion sailed wide before Cooney thought he had given Ulster a fighting chance, but his intercept try was chalked off after the TMO correctly spotted that the scrum-half was offside.

Play was brought all the way back and Leinster sensed blood. The forwards made the hard yards before Harry Byrne took the responsibility on himself and snuck over for a third Leinster try, which he converted himself.

Both sides now turn their attention to their semi-finals, as they head into knockout rugby in very different form.

SCORERS – Ulster: Herring 1 try, Cooney 1 con & 1 pen. Leinster: E Byrne, Penny, H Byrne 1 try each, R Byrne 3 pens & 1 con, H Byrne 1 con.

ULSTER– J Stockdale (L Ludik 55); M Faddes, J Hume, S McCloskey (D Shanahan 76), R Lyttle; I Madigan (B Johnston 62), J Cooney; E O’Sullivan (K McCall 62), R Herring (J Andrew 62), T O’Toole (M Moore 55); S Carter (capt), K Treadwell (D O’Connor 55); M Rea, J Murphy (N Timoney 55), M Coetzee.

LEINSTER – R Kearney; H Keenan, R O’Loughlin, C Frawley (J O’Brien 74), C Kelleher; R Byrne (H Byrne 62), J Gibson-Park (R Osborne 71); E Byrne (capt) (M Milne 62), S Cronin (J Tracy 51), M Bent (T Clarkson 57); D Toner, R Molony; J Murphy (R Ruddock 57), W Connors (S Penny 71), M Deegan.

REF – G Clancy (Ireland)


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