Leinster just have enough in feisty encounter with Ulster
Failure to add to their third try in final 18 minutes means they still trail Munster
Leinster’s Robbie Henshaw in action during Friday night’s Rainbow Cup encounter with Ulster. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Connacht having opened the door for themselves and the others in the peleton with their win in Thomond Park, Leinster duly repelled a stiff Ulster test to move alongside the western province on nine points.
However, their failure to add to their third try in the last 18 minutes means they still trail Munster by a point in the race to top the northern table and secure a place in the planned cross-hemisphere final.
It may only have been another interpro in the Rainbow Cup, but seemingly the players can’t get enough of them. For a game with no crowd, it was a noisy affair, both on and off the pitch, with a boisterous contingent of rested or injured Leinster players exhorting their team-mates continually and particularly enjoying the thud of big hits. And there was plenty of them.
In the bigger scheme of things, the four Irishmen chosen for this summer’s Lions expedition all came through strongly, as Robbie Henshaw maintained his imperious form and Jack Conan had a match-turning impact off the bench.
Best of all, did Caelan Doris, who marked his first game since January with a couple of trademark turnovers in the jackal and was still going strong into the fourth quarter of an 80 minute effort. Indeed, make that closer to 100 minutes given the referrals and stoppages.
Plenty of intent
Ulster had only pride to play for but stung by three successive defeats demonstrated that in abundance. They started with plenty of intent, going wide off the game’s first attacking scrum and twice threatening after Nick Timoney and Stuart McCloskey, their effective go-to man as usual, each pierced the Leinster defensive line. Twice they went to the corner as well, and twice James Ryan pilfered the throw.
But Ulster were eventually rewarded off a strong scrum on the Leinster put-in. Matty Rea nabbed Luke McGrath at the base and Dave Shanahan smartly popped the ball to Nick Timoney. Switching wide right, Jacob Stockdale slipped out of Dave Kearney’s tackle off McCloskey’s long pass and gave Robert Baloucoune a clear run to the corner.
Burns converted but soon after was charged down by Ross Byrne, Garry Ringrose brilliantly scooping the ball to Seán Cronin and critically Ryan Baird was first in for the clear-out. Cue a close-range Leinster tap penalty by Josh van der Flier before Cian Healy burrowed over.
Burns did make a searing break off a line-out inside Josh van der Flier from half-way when Cronin went for an intercept to leave the gap. Kearney made a try-saving tap tackle before Henshaw smashed Baloucoune, although in the process he conceded a penalty after a prolonged captain’s challenge and departing for an HIA which he passed.
The only surprise was that Ulster then twice closed the door on Leinster in first-half overtime.
Having missed from 43 minutes with a scrum penalty, Burns nudged Ulster in front. Leinster’s response was swift and telling, Henshaw brilliantly regathering McGrath’s box kick in a duel with Baloucoune and three phases later the newly introduced Conan steamed onto McGrath’s pass to leave Rob Herring and Iain Henderson clutching air to score from 30 metres.
Leinster pushed for their bonus point, but instead Ulster had the final say when old blue boy Ian Madigan put Craig Gilroy with a huge pass and landed a quickfire touchline conversion.They searched for an unlikely win and then Leinster again attacked from deep for that bonus point in a thrilling but unproductive final play.
LEINSTER: J O’Brien; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, D Kearney; R Byrne, L McGrath (capt); C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong, R Baird, J Ryan, J Murphy, J van der Flier, C Doris. Replacements: T O’Brien for Kearney (31 mins); R O’Loughlin for Henshaw (31-40); O’Loughlin for O’Brien (42); R Kelleher for Cronin (48); J Conan for Murphy (48); M Milne for Healy (51); M Bent for Furlong (64); D Toner for Baird (66).
ULSTER: J Stockdale; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; B Burns, D Shanahan; E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore, S Carter, I Henderson (capt), M Rea, S Reidy, N Timoney. Replacements: R Lyttle for Stockdale (42 mins); A O’Connor for Carter (51); T O’Toole for Moore (62); N Doak for Shanahan (62); Madigan for Burns (63); C Reid for O’Sullivan (63); B Roberts for Herring (63); G Jones for Reidy (71).
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU).