Belfast Telegraph

Ulster 26 - 10 Leinster: Ulster home in on semi-finals with win at Kingspan

By Michael Sadlier

At last, a win over Leinster and one of some significance too as Ulster have now assured their place in the PRO12's top four while also going top of the table overnight as well.

Their gaze can now rest solely on nailing that home semi-final with two games to go and Munster next on the list at the Kingspan in a fortnight's time.

On a damp night in Belfast, Neil Doak's squad recovered their poise after a rocky start and gradually ground down a weary-looking Leinster - who were playing to essentially save their season just five days after their bruising European exit to Toulon - to take the four fully-deserved points.

It wasn't exactly entirely pleasing on the eye but that hardly mattered as Ulster - led by man of the match and try scorer Iain Henderson - fought their way back and then had the finesse, and luck, to add the finishing touches.

After trailing 10-0 after only eight minutes, Rory Best and co battened down the hatches to score an impressive 26 unanswered points to bring them their reward with Craig Gilroy scoring his 11th PRO12 try while Ruan Pienaar kicked 16 points.

Leinster out-half Jimmy Gopperth slotted over a fourth-minute penalty and they then made their next visit to Ulster's half tell to even greater benefit as, after Ulster had botched a lineout with an overthrow, Sean O'Brien was on hand to truck the ball up and the visitors had a try in the blink of an eye.

Centre Ben Te'o ran a strong line and smashed through some weak Ulster tackling to score from long range. Gopperth's conversion made it 10-0 to Leinster after only seven minutes and Ulster were reeling.

Ulster badly needed a score though and, to their credit, got one in the 10th minute.

Paddy Jackson made the break and from recycled ball going left, Louis Ludik's half-break led to Iain Henderson rampaging through to make the line. Pienaar converted and it was game on again.

Three minutes later and the scores were level with Pienaar's first penalty success after the visitors strayed offside. Controversy then followed after Sean O'Brien tip tackled Henderson and with the crowd baying for a red card - as was the case for Tom Court in last May's clash in Belfast - referee John Lacey in consultation with the TMO opted for only a yellow.

It was a fortunate escape for the visitors, but as it appeared that Henderson did not dangerously land on his head the decision was seemingly made to give O'Brien 10 minutes in the bin.

Ulster needed to make their advantage count but Pienaar's 29th minute penalty shot from long range was wide.

O'Brien then re-joined the fray in the 31st minute to a chorus of boos with Ulster worryingly having failed to trouble the scoreboard during his time away.

Then with two minutes remaining, some go-forward by Jared Payne saw Leinster stray offside at the next phase and from decent range for Pienaar the ball sailed between the sticks and Ulster had the lead for the first time in the game at 13-10.

The half then ended with Ulster holding that lead and with Leinster having the first potential scoring chance of the second-half, Franco Van der Merwe's lineout steal on his own line looked like a significant moment.

And as the tension rose a Paddy Jackson chip saw Craig Gilroy gather and touch down though it was clear that Rob Kearney's hit had forced the winger into touch.

Then, out of nothing, Ulster got a lucky break with Ludik somehow scything through after Pienaar had dropped an unexpected ball delivered from the back of a scrum from Roger Wilson. Bowe got on the end of Ludik's pass and was held up short which saw Pienaar then cross-kick for Gilroy who was again put in touch. But play was called back by referee Lacey and Kearney was sin-binned giving Pienaar the 63rd minute penalty which he duly slotted to stretch the lead to a significant 16-10.

Three minutes later and he nailed a monster effort from just inside Leinster's half and the home side now had nine-point margin to their lead.

It already looked too late for Leinster and their humiliation was completed with eight minutes to go when a huge Ulster power play off a scrum on Leinster's line ultimately saw Craig Gilroy dance through for his 11th PRO12 try of the campaign.

Pienaar converted to further rub salt in Leinster's wounds and with Andy Warwick yellow-carded late on, Ulster refused to yield with their defence holding firm.

ULSTER: Louis Ludik, Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Darren Cave, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Callum Black, Rory Best (capt), Wiehahn Herbst, Dan Tuohy, Franco Van der Merwe, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Roger Wilson.

Replacements: Rob Herring, Andy Warwick, Bronson Ross, Robbie Diack, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Stuart McCloskey.

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney, Zane Kirchner, Ben Te'o, Gordon D'Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Dominic Ryan, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Ben Marshall, Jordi Murphy, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Darragh Fanning.

Man of the match: Iain Henderson (pictured)

Match rating: 7/10

Belfast Telegraph

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