Leinster reach Pro14 final on back of bonus point victory over Ulster

Ulster 19Leinster 38

SAME OLD LEINSTER, same old Ulster, same old story. One team always finds a way to win this fixture, the other a way to lose it. Only this time Ulster have a genuine grievance.

While there was much to admire in the way Leinster fought their way back into this one, their mental toughness evident when they swiftly turned a 12-3 first-half deficit into a 24-12 lead, you can’t ignore the crucial decision that referee, Frank Murphy, made on 31 minutes.

By this stage, Murphy had already dished out three cards, two to Leinster, one to Ulster. Soon three would become four after Andrew Warwick was red carded for leading with an elbow as Ed Byrne attempted to tackle him. It was a harsh call.

That was the end of Warwick’s evening and also, despite plenty of huffing and puffing, the end of Ulster’s challenge for a place in this year’s Pro14 decider. To get there, they needed to win this and needed to deny Leinster a bonus point, too.

For a brief period, they looked like doing all of the above, chalking up two tries and 12 points in the opening quarter, all their big players looking dangerous: Stockdale, McCloskey, Cooney, Lowry, Baloucoune.

Andrew Warwick leaves the field. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But over the course of the 80 minutes, too many things went Leinster’s way. They were bossing the scrum; winning far too many penalties at the breakdown and then, when discomforted by a second yellow card and a second Ulster try, they decided to show their champion spirit.

These were the critical moments, those 10 minutes just after Robert Baloucoune had scored and Jimmy O’Brien had temporarily left the pitch for a seat on the naughty step. Surely then, when ahead, both on the scoreboard and numerically, Ulster would turn the screw.

Not this time. Leinster played with a strong mentality, getting a scrum penalty, and controlling the tempo for the remainder of that 10-minute period, turning down two further kickable penalties to first go to the corner and then tap and go from five metres.

The Ulster defence was powerless to stop them. And after first being saved by the referee’s whistle, they were subsequently bullied into submission, Michael Bent squeezing across for Leinster’s first try – converted by Byrne, on 24 minutes.

Three minutes later they had a second. Again it came from a tap and go, again Ulster were too placid in their attempts to stop it and again, Leinster kept finding willing carriers to put their bodies on the line. This time it was Josh van der Flier who crossed. Credit James Tracy for his supporting roles in both scores.

Leinster’s Scott Penny is tackled. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Suddenly that 12-3 lead was a distant memory.

Still, although ahead just briefly, they were well worth it.

From the off, Ulster’s big ball carriers, Tom O’Toole and Marcell Coetzee, didn’t shy away from work but it was the work of the smallest man on their team, Michael Lowry, that resulted in Devin Toner getting a yellow card on six minutes, after he caught the Ulster full back with a high tackle.

A try eventually came from it; Ian Madigan kicking to the corner, the Ulster maul doing what it was supposed to do, and finally, after a second penalty, the play moved infield, Baloucoune, O’Connor and O’Toole carrying before finally Coetzee got across. Cooney’s conversion made it 7-3.

This spell was Ulster’s best in the game. Michael Lowry impressed at full-back, John Cooney was always a threat around the fringes, the two wings were constantly involved and the forwards joined in handling moves.

That was how the second Ulster try came about, scored on 14 minutes by Baloucoune, after Stockdale had initially made inroads on the opposite wing. By the time the play was switched from left to right, Stuart McCloskey was backing himself to offload in the tackle.

He was right to. John Andrew was the grateful recipient and the big hooker was even more thankful to spot Baloucoune on his outside. The wing put the pedal down, offering Max O’Reilly and Dave Kearney no chance of catching him. Ulster were 12-3 up.

Ulster’s Robert Baloucoune scores a try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But not for long. First Bent, then van der Flier, scored.

Next came the incident which had the Ulster fans furious. Warwick and Bent collided, Murphy consulted with the TMO, Warwick was off to the showers.

Now you can point out that Leinster had a couple of decisions go against them too – Devin Toner carded for a high tackle on Lowry, an easy enough thing to happen when the tallest player on the pitch attempts to stop the smallest; plus Jimmy O’Brien got yellow for a dangerous tackle on Ian Madigan. Later, when the game was as good as over, Rhys Ruddock also got yellow.

The red card was the biggest call of all, though. Two other calls that went against Ulster – a yellow for McCloskey for cynical play; a disallowed Baloucoune try, after McCloskey had blocked Rhys Ruddock, were also correct.

But the Warwick incident left a sense of injustice. The decision was followed by Leinster scoring again just before half-time, O’Brien’s midfield break leading to sustained pressure in the Ulster 22 and Ed Byrne getting across for try number three.

Had Baloucoune’s 49th minute effort been allowed to stand, then Ulster would have been back breathing down Leinster’s necks. But it wasn’t. Instead, by the 56th minute Ruddock had Leinster’s fourth – the bonus point try that guarantees them a place in the final. That Ulster never gave up was as admirable as it was unsurprising. Nick Timoney’s try, 10 minutes from the end, was deserved but Leinster weren’t done yet.

Two minutes from time a line out led to their fifth try, Dan Sheehan getting it. The names on this Leinster team change. The results don’t.

Ulster scorers

Tries Coetzee, Baloucoune, Timoney

Conversions Cooney (1/2), Lowry (1/1)

Leinster scorers

Tries Bent, Van der Flier, Ed Byrne, Ruddock, Sheehan

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Conversions R Byrne (5/5)

Penalties R Byrne

Ulster: Michael Lowry; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume (Stewart Moore ’60), Stuart McCloskey (yellow card 27), Jacob Stockdale; Ian Madigan (Rob Lyttle ’50), John Cooney (Alby Mathewson ‘71); Eric O’Sullivan (Andrew Warwick ’26 – red card 31), John Andrew (Adam McBurney ‘40), Tom O’Toole; Alan O’Connor (Cormac Izuchukwu), Kieran Treadwell (Cormac Izuchukwu ’50 – yellow card ‘77); Nick Timoney (Sean Reidy), Jordi Murphy (Sean Reidy ‘50), Marcell Coetzee (Eric O’Sullivan ’33 – Marty Moore ‘60).

Leinster: Max O’Reilly, Cian Kelleher, Jimmy O’Brien (yellow card 15 – Jamie Osborne 73), Rory O’Loughlin, Dave Kearney, Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath (Rowan Osborne ‘76), Ed Byrne (Peter Dooley ‘57) , James Tracy (Sheehan ‘57), Michael Bent (Thomas Clarkson ‘57); Devin Toner (yellow card 6) (Jack Dunne 73), Scott Fardy (Ross Molony ’62); Rhys Ruddock (yellow card ’70), Josh van der Flier (Josh Murphy ‘37), Scott Penny.

:  Josh Murphy,

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)

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