Super sub Ian Madigan helps Leinster squeeze past Ulster
Matt O’Connor’s side come through bruising clash to set up RDS final against Glasgow
Ian Madigan goes over for the only try of the RaboDirect Pro12 semi-final against Ulster at the RDS. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Ian Madigan celebrates his try with Leinster team-mate Rob Kearney in the RaboDirect Pro12 semi-final against Ulster at the RDS. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Leinster 13 Ulster 9: Ian Madigan emerged as the match-winner for Leinster as his 72nd minute try decided Saturday evening’s attritional RaboDirect Pro12 semi-final against Ulster at the RDS.
Madigan, who replaced a groggy Brian O’Driscoll for the closing half-hour, unlocked the visitors’ defence with an O’Driscoll-esque break to put Leinster in front for the first time.
Jimmy Gopperth converted and Leinster’s defiant defence held the Ulstermen at bay in a frantic finish, with the result keeping alive O’Driscoll’s dreams of a fourth Pro12 title.
The comeback win ensured that the retiring O’Driscroll, a league winner in 2001, 2008 and 2013, will have his career swansong when Leinster host Glasgow Warriors in the May 31st final.
His long-time centre partner Gordon D’Arcy ended the first half in the sin-bin, with Ulster full value for their 6-0 interval lead thanks to two Paddy Jackson penalties.
Out-of-sorts Leinster fell further behind following a third Jackson kick, but they came to the fore in the closing stages despite losing backs O’Driscoll, Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney as the big hits went in.
Ulster played the better rugby for the first hour, however they did not have the points to show for it and their attempts to win silverware for retiring captain Johann Muller fell short.
Leinster have been Ulster’s knockout nemeses in recent seasons, defeating their provincial rivals in league and Heineken Cup finals and now two league semi-finals (2011 and 2014).
Incredibly, it will be Leinster’s fifth straight league final appearance as they bid to become the first team to successfully retain the trophy. The RDS will host the decider for the fourth time in five seasons.
Ulster were the last team to beat Leinster in league fare at the RDS in March 2013, and they made the return trip in buoyant mood after their second-string team claimed Munster’s scalp last weekend.
Leinster got a psychological edge from a scrum penalty, but they were left to rue two crooked lineouts and a kick out on the full from their latest centurion Eoin Reddan.
The Kearney brothers combined to offer the first glimpse of Leinster’s attacking class, Dave weaving his way over halfway and fellow winger McFadden added further momentum to the eye-catching counter.
Again, though, errors stopped Leinster in their tracks and a slashing midfield break from Gopperth also came to nothing as Ulster forced a turnover.
Leinster then coughed up possession for a third time in the visitors’ 22, Cian Healy knocking on after a decent lineout maul.
D’Arcy saw yellow for a late tackle on his Ireland colleague Bowe six minutes before the break, allowing Ulster to dominate up to the half-time whistle.