Leinster loose but lethal as they make light work of Ulster
Conor O’Brien shines for Cullen’s much changed side as they ease to RDS victory
Conor O’Brien scores a fine individual try in the first half of Leinster win over Ulster. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
It was a victory achieved with a modicum of discomfort. Six tries and a handful of outstanding individual performances ensured a largely enjoyable night for the home supporters. It was a long one for a smattering of Ulster fans with precious little to cheer.
Ulster were overmatched in most aspects of the game, particularly the scrum and in the collisions on the gainline where the home side were able to guarantee quick, front-foot ball for the most part. If Leinster had been more accurate and less blinkered and narrow in attack at times they could have won by an even greater margin.
That they didn’t isn’t really here or there. They got what they set out to achieve and in Conor O’Brien, Max Deegan, Sean Cronin, Josh Murphy and Andrew Porter had five players who caught the eye on the night. O’Brien was outstanding, not alone in the power of his carrying but his footwork and handling.
He played at inside centre despite the number 13 on his back and opposed Ulster’s best player on the night, James Hume. The former Ireland Under-20 international, along with Greg Jones, never took a backward step and in Hume’s case was possibly the only player to take the game to Leinster.
Ulster spent much of the night corralled inside their 22, almost exclusively on the back foot, and even when they did manage to go through the phases, their progress was generally lateral in orientation.
Leinster bullied the visitors up front, the pack dominant, although they hogged the ball a little too much. Ciaran Frawley did reasonably well in terms of his distribution while Adam Byrne and Barry Daly were perhaps a little underutilised.
Leinster had a four-try bonus point tucked away by the interval, a merited reward based on their first half dominance. Ulster were gutsy in defence and gamey on the couple of occasions that they managed to escape the confines of their half, but the periodically brittle nature of their defence was a liability.
The home side played with width, varying the point of the attack intelligently, appreciating when Ulster were light on the fringes and also when there was a chance to take the visitors on the edges. The Leinster runners came from depth, at pace, utilising good footwork into and through the tackles to find soft shoulders or none at all.
Max Deegan ability to find gaps coupled with his handling and athleticism was a consistent feature of Leinster’s better moments in the opening 40-minutes. Sean Cronin crossed for a brace of tries, the first after the home side had demonstrated patience and precision to work their way to the Ulster line, the second when he timed his run onto a popped pass beautifully, leaving defenders festooned on the ground.
Conor O’Brien, another to excel, showed strength and balance for his try but Ulster will be disappointed by insipid tackling. Leinster’s fourth try of the half was a one metre pick-and-drive from Porter. Ciaran Frawley kicked three conversions from four attempts.
Ulster’s response came from a well executed lineout maul with hooker Adam McBurney the beneficiary. Johnny McPhillips added the conversion. From a neutral perspective it was a pity that Ulster fullback Michael Lowry was forced off with a knock to the head; a couple of cameos underlined what a talented footballer he is given a scintilla of space.
The first 20 minutes after the restart were notable for a nasty leg injury to the unfortunate Ulster prop Kyle McCall and a brilliant break by Leinster’s 19-year-old flanker Scott Penney. Jamison Gibson-Park’s try on 64 minutes cut through the torpor briefly, the game having descended into a morass of handling errors and poorly judged punting.
Hume continued to provide a glimmer of light in what was a bleak evening for the visitors, his strength, footwork and lines of running always challenging the tackler.
Leinster rounded off the night with a sixth try in injury time, the pack shunting their counterparts back to within millimetres of the Ulster line before the visitors transgressed; referee Andrew Brace ran under the posts to award the penalty try.
Injuries to Lowry (head) and McCall (leg) will prove more debilitating to Ulster than the defeat. For Leinster they extended their lead over their provincial rivals to 21 points in the Conference table and that combined with some excellent individual performances will offer a pleasing legacy.
Scoring sequence - 5 mins: Cronin try, Frawley conversion, 7-0; 12: Cronin try, Frawley conversion, 14-0; 17: McBurney try, McPhillips try, 14-7; 19: C O’Brien try, 19-7; 40 (+2): Porter try, Frawley conversion, 26-7. Half-time: 26-7. 61: Gibson Park try, Frawley conversion, 33-7; 80: Penalty try, 40-7.
Leinster: R Kearney (capt); A Byrne, C O’Brien, N Reid, B Daly; C Frawley, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath, S Cronin, A Porter; R Molony, M Kearney; Josh Murphy, S Penny, M Deegan. Replacements: J Tracy for Cronin 50 mins; E Byrne for McGrath 50 mins; M Bent for Porter 50 mins; C Doris for J Murphy 64 mins; H O’Sullivan for Gibson Park 64 mins; J O’Brien for Kearney 64 mins; O Dowling for Molony 68 mins.
Ulster: M Lowry; R Lyttle, D Cave, James Hume, A Kernohan; J McPhillips, D Shanahan; K McCall, A McBurney, W Herbst; M Dalton, A O’Connor (capt); G Jones, S Reidy, N Timoney. Replacements: P Nelson for Lowry 17 mins; J Andrew for McBurney 32-40 and 50 mins; T O’Toole for Herbst half-time; A Warwick for McCall 46 mins; B Houston for Kernohan 46 mins; C Ross for Reidy 57 mins; Caleb Montgomery for O’Connor 67 mins; J Stewart for Shanahan 71 mins.
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU).