Joe Schmidt praises defiant Leinster defence
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe happy with progress province has made this year
One for the road: Leinster back Isa Nacewa, coach Joe Schmidt and outhalf Jonathan Sexton with the silverware they won in their final game for the province last night. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Leinster outhalf Jonathan Sexton signed off before the British and Irish Lions tour with 14 points, booting four penalties and converting Shane Jennings’s early try, with Jamie Heaslip also touching down after the break to see the Dublin-based side over the finish line.
A resilient Ulster took the battle to Leinster, with their South African star Ruan Pienaar kicking immaculately in an 18-point haul, but they fell just short as departing Leinster coach Schmidt was given a winning send-off.
“It was a pretty nerve-racking way to go out,” said Schmidt, after the win sealed a European and domestic double following Amlin Challenge Cup success eight days ago. “I don’t think we managed the last quarter of the game. We gave them the ball back too many times. Ulster are too good a team to give the ball back to. Our defence was first rate today. We managed to hang in when they had a lot of pressure in the first half and in the last quarter we did pretty well. It’s a massive credit to the team.”
Three years after he came, Schmidt, who is taking over the Ireland job later this year, leaves Leinster having won two Heineken Cups, an Amlin Challenge Cup and a RaboDirect PRO12 title. But it is the Ireland coaching job that is now on the mind of the Kiwi as he prepares to take the reins of the international team.
“It’s three years on, six years older. It has been nerve-racking quite often, for example today was no different. The PRO12 is very, very tough. It is a super competition. Anyone of the top six teams could have won it,” Schmidt said. “When you do get through to the play-off games it is very tough all the way. It is phenomenal to have three trophies in the changing rooms at the moment (including the ‘A’ team’s British and Irish Cup).
“It is a massive credit to our players. We focused on our attack for the Amlin and focused a little bit on defence for this game. It would be great to look back over the summer and enjoy a moment of reflection but already looking ahead, I have a new job and there is going to be a lot of pressure with that.
Ulster, the table toppers for much of the season, beat Leinster twice in the league phase — including their first away victory over them in Dublin in 13 years. They trailed 16-6 at the break and their place-kicking scrumhalf Pienaar finished with a perfect six penalties from six kicks record, but indiscipline, particularly at ruck time, let them down.
“Discipline. Little things,” Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe said, when reflecting on what might have been. “You start a game and it is important. You want to get the start and things go your way. A couple of lazy penalties from us, they are metres form our line and they took their try really well (and went 10-0 up). Penalties really hurt us in the first half and when you get close to the goal-line it is about getting to the goal-line.”
But looking back on his first year in charge, Anscombe believes the province are now on an equal playing field with Leinster, who also beat Ulster in last year’s Heineken Cup final.
“(The season) has been long, endurable, cold, wet, but they’re a good bunch of guys. We finished last year when I wasn’t here. In the Heineken Cup final we got cleaned out,” he said. “I think we showed today we are their equal now. I got a lot of heart from what I have seen and look forward to next year as a province.”