Leinster edge out Ulster in frantic Ravenhill encounter
Matt O’Connor’s side on verge of home semi-final, most likely against the same opposition
Leinster’s Zane Kirchner and Tommy Bowe of Ulster vie for possession at Ravenhill. Photograph: Dan Sheridan / Inpho
Ulster 20 Leinster 22
What little rugby there was Leinster played more of it, but they made heavy weather of eventually subduing an underpowered Ulster to retain leadership over Glasgow, whose bonus pint win away to Treviso strengthened their hold on second place. A bonus point was the least Ulster deserved, which in turn ensured them of a play-off place though in all probability that will now be a semi-final with Leinster in the RDS.
A fractious and feisty affair had seen English referee Luke Pearce brandish one red and two yellow cards in the first half-hour, the 17th minute sending off of Tom Court for a spear tackle on Devin Toner recalling memories of Jared Payne’s fifth minute red card against Saracens. In mitigation of Court, on his farewell appearance, the decision made no allowance for Toner twisting in mid-air to present the ball, albeit Court did drive him downwards.
The two coaches did agree that once again the match was effectively ruined as a contest, and even two ensuing yellow cards for Rob Kearney and Rhys Ruddock did little to assuage home anger, but the coaches saw the cards slightly differently.
“It’s hard to defend the fact that if you lift someone up you’re putting yourself in that position, aren’t you?” admitted Mark Anscombe of Court’s red card. “I’ll have to have a better look at it tomorrow. It’s a 50-50 but I suppose it might have been fair.”
Not surprisingly, after Payne’s red card, Anscombe suggested Ruddock (or Zane Kirchner) might have seen red for contriving to take out Paddy Jackson in mid-air. “Surely the penalty is on what you do in the air. Why does it vary on how he falls? If he falls on his shoulder or neck it’s a red card, but if he falls on his back or his hip, it’s a yellow card. That’s not to do with intent.” Anscombe also validly suggested a major Irish derby cum League match should have had an experienced referee.
His counterpart, Matt O’Connor, said of Court’s red: “It was unfortunate. That’s the law. You put the bloke on his head or neck it’s a red card. End of.” As for Leinster’s two yellows, he said both were fair decisions.
Ian Madigan having opened the scoring from a scrum penalty, although ultimately makeshift tight-head Andrew Warwick emerged with some credit, Ulster looked a little too pumped up for their own good; Warwick coming in from the side of a maul and Chris Henry tackling Isaac Boss at the base too early, with Madigan doubling the lead before missing from 50 metres. Following Court’s dismissal, Shane Jennings was held up over the line, and the ensuing scrum meant that Nick Williams (who had just been penalised for punching Rhys Ruddock) was sacrificed with the introduction of Callum Black.
Ulster survived the siege, and when Madigan attempted his second chip off a defensive scrum, Jackson charged it down, gathered and showed a good turn of foot to head for the corner flag where he was literally collared by Rob Kearney. To howls of derision as he watched the replays, Pearce adjudged the touchdown legal, but not the tackle, thus awarding the try and sinbinning Kearney, who could have no complaints, although the crowd booed as they wanted red.
Bizarrely, it was soon 14 v 13 men in Ulster’s favour, if only briefly, when Kirchner bumped Ruddock in chasing a Madigan up-and-under, both then colliding with an airborne Jackson. Ruddock saw yellow, though Kirchner looked the bigger culprit.
Jackson then chased his own grubber to force a five-metre scrum, and although good counter-rucking by Isaac Boss relieved the ensuing attack, Jackson nudged Ulster in front after Black won a turnover penalty. Madigan had the final say of the half when Ulster were offside to leave Leinster 9-8 ahead at the break.
He missed with a long-range effort on the resumption and a more kickable effort soon after. After then going to the corner, Leinster punched away close in before going wide, where Dave Kearney stumbled in gathering Gordon D’Arcy’s low pass and was tackled into touch by a combination of Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne. It was another example of Leinster’s less potent finishing this season.
Madigan and Jackson exchanged further penalties before, out of nothing, Leinster struck. Tommy Bowe spilled Madigan’s restart, when impeded by Kirchner, the bell fell to Boss, who fed Brian O’Driscoll, and his wondrous inside pass allowed Shane Jennings to dummy Paul Marshall and saunter over untouched. Madigan converted, before being replaced by Jimmy Gopperth who restored a two-score lead after a Jackson penalty.
Two more Jackson penalties kept Ulster in touch but Leinster ran down the last 90 seconds for Boss to kick the ball into touch to a combination of boos and then applause, for the home team and, finally, for O’Driscoll and then Muller and Tom Court. It was a bitter sweet night for Ulster, and Court especially.
Scoring sequence: 6 mins Madigan pen 0-3; 12 mins Madigan pen 0-6; 24 mins Jackson try 5-6; 34 mins Jackson pen 8-6; 36 mins Madigan pen 8-9; (half-time 8-9); 53 mins Madigan pen 8-12; 58 mins Jackson pen 11-12; 59 mins Jennings try, Madigan con 11-19; 68 mins Jackson pen 14-19; 70 mins Gopperth pen 14-22; 73 mins Jackosn pen 17-22; 77 m ins Jackson pen 20-22.
Ulster: R Andrew, A Trimble, J Payne, L Marshall, T Bowe, P Jackson, P Marshall; T Court, R Herring, A Warwick, J Muller (Capt), I Henderson, R Wilson, C Henry, N Williams. Replacements _ C Black for Williams (19 mins), D Cave for Luke Marshall (57 min), D Tuohy for Muller (63 mins), EWilliams for Wilson (67 mins), A Macklin for Warwick (71 mins). James McKinney. Sent-off _ Court (17 mins).
Leinster: R Kearney; Z Kirchner, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Kearney; I Madigan, I Boss: C Healy, S Cronin, M Moore: D Toner, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, S Jennings, J Heaslip. (Capt).Replacements _ L Cullen for Toner (58 mins), R Strauss for Cronin, J McGrath for Healy, M Ross for Moore, J Gopperth for Madigan (all 65 mins), J Murphy for Ruddock (71 mins). Sinbinned _ Rob Kearney (24-34 mins), Ruddock (27-37 mins).
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU).