Leinster 10 Ulster 20
When pushed, Dan McFarland was possibly only half joking when he declared this the best win of his Ulster tenure.
The pleasure emanated not so much from reversing Ulster’s abysmal record away to Leinster, more so having been left to stew over their 36-11 defeat by Connacht on their last trek to Dublin five weeks ago.
“Four weeks is a long time to be sitting and thinking that you did not earn the respect you needed. There was definitely an element of that adding a spark to the fire. It was a catalyst for our motivation coming into this game.
“It was probably only one spark among many. Playing Leinster in Dublin is the ultimate test in our league, it is as simple as that. If you can’t set your fire for that then what can you set your fire for?”
When a team comes up short and has been well-beaten a coach can either stick or twist. redeem themselves.
McFarland retained 11 of that starting XV from the Connacht defeat, including four ex-Leinster men and two more on the bench.
Greg Jones set the ball rolling with the opening try only to have his night ended prematurely with a failed HIA, as was the case for his opposite number Dan Leavy in the same minute. A feisty John Cooney played the territory game, Marty Moore put in a big shift as did Nick Timoney.
Having been reminded of the one-off factors which come into play with derbies last time out, McFarland agreed that derbies are different gravy.
“It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s still a game of rugby, there’s still five points [on offer/] but there’s a ferocity to it, an intensity to a lot of the work that means if you’re off even marginally you can be sat on your arse, tumbling around in the surf with sand in your jocks and not even having played that badly.
“That’s what makes it so great, and so terrible when we were up in the Aviva in round five. It’s brilliant.”
Duane Vermeulen is due to arrive today or tomorrow.
“It’s great to have Duane coming in,” said McFarland with a contented smile. “We’ll introduce him to the family and get him up and running.”
It’s another timely boost for Ulster as the provinces head into the meaty part of the season.
“Ten games, seven teams, four derbies, four European games, Ospreys away and big Dwayne Peel coming back for the tenth game [against the Scarlets].
“If rounds one to five were the starter then this is definitely the main course that’s going to decide the dessert. It’s a phenomenally tough schedule and we’re going to test the depth of our squad.
“The challenge is one that we talked about and it’s exciting, really exciting. It’s an opportunity for us to make some news, for us to drive as individuals to get recognition and international honours. Everything is there for us.”
Ulster had lost on their previous 14 games against Leinster in Dublin since a 22-18 win at the RDS in March 2013, and that was their only win on their last 27 visits dating back to a 26-15 win in August 1999 at Donnybrook.
James Hume agreed that Ulster's record away to Leinster had been a motivation.
“We didn’t actually mention that during the week but lads know that. All I’ve known is coming down here and losing, that’s the only experience I’ve had. Alan [O’Connor] mentioned before the game at captain’s [run] yesterday, we don’t want to come down here and be sitting after the game in the changing room again saying we weren’t nasty enough, weren’t clinical enough.”
Hume had a hugely influential match, beating Jordan Larmour on the outside before Jones scored off the recycle with a strong outside-in line, and then fittingly rewarding Ulster’s use of shooters in the second-half when picking off Ciaran Frawley’s pass to score the decisive 79th minute try.
One of the unused players in Ireland’s Autumn Series, it transpired Hume had even more to stew on.
“It’s been probably the toughest three weeks I’ve had to deal with mentally,” admitted the 23-year-old. “I haven’t really had a challenge like that mentally yet.
"I was really happy to be in camp and I was trying to draw as much experience from everyone and learning from the likes of Ringer and Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki, trying to get how they perform at their best all the time.
“To have no involvement over the three weeks at all is tough because you’re down at Carton House, the HPC, the Shelbourne and you’re seeing how good a high-performance environment it is and how well the guys were performing.
“It was mentally tough not to be involved, but I’ve made a few goals written down on my notepad of what I want out of the next block of nine games, and I just kept looking at that over this week and before I went out and at half-time, reminding myself what I want out of this block of games going into the Six Nations.”
Scoring sequence: 16 mins Jones try, Cooney con 0-7; (half-time 0-7); 47 mins Cooney pen 0-10; 51 mins Henshaw try, R Byrne con 7-10; 65 mins R Byrne pen 10-10; 68 Doak pen 10-13; 79 mins Hume try, Doak con 10-20.
LEINSTER: Jimmy O'Brien; Adam Byrne, Robbie Henshaw, Ciaran Frawley, Jordan Larmour; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath (capt); Ed Byrne, James Tracy, Tadhg Furlong; Ross Molony, Devin Toner; Dan Leavy, Scott Penny, Rhys Ruddock.
Replacements: Max Deegan for Leavy (21 mins), Sean Cronin for Tracy, Peter Dooley for E Byrne (both 52 mins), Will Connors for Ruddock (60 mins), Nick McCarthy for McGrath, Harry Byrne for R Byrne (both 66 mins), Vakh Abdaladze for Furlong (69 mins), Tommy O'Brien for Larmour (71 mins).
ULSTER: Michael Lowry; Craig Gilroy, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Marty Moore; Alan O'Connor (capt), Sam Carter; Greg Jones, Nick Timoney, David McCann.
Replacements: Marcus Rea for Jones (21 mins), Eric O'Sullivan for Warwick (46 mins), Mick Kearney for Carter (47 mins), Rob Lyttle for Lowry (52 mins), Nathan Doak for Cooney (60 mins), Ross Kane for Moore (71 mins). Not used: Tom Stewart, Angus Curtis.
Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU).