Leinster win fitness test

 

The new format for the Interprovincial Championship - in which each side played each other twice over the two days - is unlikely to be repeated, as it was too much of an endurance test at Blairs over the weekend. It was embattled Leinster who lasted the pace most successfully, as they remained unvanquished and finished with a 1-0 victory over Ulster.

Thus, the title was regained and gave a special touch of satisfaction to coach, Aidan Kidney, brother of Munster rugby boss Declan.

The final game, with both teams showing weariness, was a scrappy affair, disrupted by injuries and yellow cards. Ulster were wayward from a greater number of opportunities while Leinster - with Nigel Henderson, Alan Bathwell and Richard Beere to the fore - survived the pressure and were rewarded with the winning goal in the 61st minute. Graham Shaw broke away on the left and his pass from the back line was touched home by John Goulding.

As it happened, a draw would have sufficed for Leinster to take the trophy, as a 3-2 win for Munster over Ulster upset the pattern in the first match of the day.

Ulster appeared to be in control in the opening half. Chris Jackson put them ahead from a short corner, and although David Eakins scored a crisp equaliser, the lead was restored through John McMeekin from the penalty spot.

But the home side, in resting several leading figures at the start of the second half, found themselves pressed back and were stunned by two goals within three minutes.

First, Eakins whipped in a drag flick to make it 2-2, and then a cross from David Lombard was lashed into the back of the net by an irrepressible Mark Black. It was a startling turn of events and Munster, indeed, should have increased the margin, being foiled notably by a clearance off the line by Brian Waring from the ubiquitous Morton Pederson.

Munster's energy, however, was largely spent and in the lunchtime match Leinster forced their way into a commanding position. They finished 4-0 winners, with Justin Sherriff notching a hat-trick and setting up Ian Allen to leave them three up.

Stamina was also a factor in Saturday's games, in which Munster, defiantly led by Jason Black in defence of the title, held Leinster to a scoreless draw. But then Munster were unfortunate to lose 2-0 to Ulster, who subsequently managed to finish level with Leinster (2-2). Colm Clarke converted the penalty to put Ulster ahead but a well-taken goal by Shaw got Leinster motoring and Stephen Butler put away a stroke to make it 2-1, only for Chris Jackson to equalise with five minutes to spare.