WATCH: 'If it was a head-butt it deserves a red card' - Fergus McFadden lucky to escape following flashpoint
Ulster 14 Leinster 13
Belfast will be home for Jack McGrath next season, but the Ireland loosehead prop looked like a man with unfinished business in a blue jersey at the Kingspan Stadium yesterday.
On what could prove to be his last game for his home province, the Lion produced his best performance for some time in a last-ditch attempt to force his way into the equation for the Champions Cup final in two weeks' time.
Leo Cullen said he was impressed by the St Mary's man's effort, even if there is still some work to be done to dislodge Ed Byrne from the No 17 jersey, with Cian Healy locked down for the starting slot.
Ulster won a game that mattered little in front of a crowd of 17,358, with debutant Marcus Rea scoring the all-important try. Both teams were quickly looking ahead to the next and far more important challenge. Ulster host Connacht here next week in a PRO14 quarter-final, while Leinster switch focus to Saracens.
"I'm alright, but I got a headbutt in the face!"— eir Sport (@eirSport) April 27, 2019
Ulster No 8 Sean Reidy is unhappy with referee George Clancy's decison not to show a card to Leinster's Fergus McFadden following an inconclusive TMO.
#ULSvLEI #GuinnessPRO14 pic.twitter.com/ElGghjpnJA
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 as referee George Clancy went upstairs for a look at Fergus McFadden's 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.
"I can't see because the footage is a long way away; if it was a head-butt it deserves a red card but there are citing officials who will handle that," Ulster coach Dan McFarland said.
The game finally burst into life as half-time approached. Noel Reid was alert to win a breakdown penalty and Leinster went up the other end and scored. 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, Johnny McPhillips worked the ball down the blindside where Michael 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 a killer moment as he held the defence with a dummy and then found McFadden out wide and he 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 rearguard 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 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.
Scorers - Ulster: Shanahan, Rea try each; McPhilips, Nelson con each; Leinster: J O'Brien, McFadden try each; R Byrne pen
Ulster: M Lowry; D Busby, D Cave, 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.
Referee: G Clancy (IRFU)
Sunday Indo Sport