Belfast Telegraph

It's the same old tale of woe for outclassed Ulster

Leinster 30- 18 Ulster

By Jonathan Bradley

It was another case of deja-vu for Ulster last night as the curtain came down on yet another season thanks to defeat at the hands of old rivals Leinster.

For the fifth time in six seasons, their Dublin neighbours provided the knock-out blow to their silverware hopes, this time triumphing 30-18 in the PRO12 semi-finals at the RDS, and extending Ulster's title drought to beyond a decade.

It was not only a familiar result but a familiar pattern.

Leinster flew out of the traps, deservedly racing into a 13-0 lead. The northern province weathered the storm with six points from the boot of Paddy Jackson and a Craig Gilroy try before half-time and the game seemed theirs for the taking, but Leinster's class told after the break.

Starting the second-half with momentum and a bulldozing Iain Henderson carry, Les Kiss' men were held at arm's length before the game turned on an excellent score from Jamie Heaslip.

With the game seemingly up after Leinster grabbed their third, Ulster launched one last comeback attempt but Gilroy's second try was all in vain.

A full season under Kiss' stewardship, and the arrivals of Charles Piutau and Marcell Coetzee, will no doubt have raised spirits by the time next season rolls around but another summer ruminating on another trophyless campaign awaits.

Leinster, meanwhile, will watch this evening's clash between Connacht and Glasgow with interest to see who they will face in next weekend's Murrayfield final.

The four-time champions started the game as if still irked by their meek performance in the defeat in Belfast three weeks ago.

With Jonathan Sexton prominent, and Luke Fitzgerald impressing, the hosts had by far the better of the opening exchanges and led with just six minutes gone.

Moving wide at pace, Eoin Reddan's pass skipped into the arms of Isa Nacewa who wasn't made to work too hard for an opening and stepped inside to go over in the corner.

With Chris Henry caught not rolling away, Sexton extended the lead minutes later and another penalty from the Irish star had Ulster 13 points in arrears.

With Jackson growing into the game, the visitors put Leo Cullen's men under pressure. Luke Marshall was through for a score if not for an excellent last-ditch tackle from Rhys Ruddock and Ben Te'o needed every inch of his frame to repel the likes of Henderson and Stuart McCloskey.

With Jordi Murphy not rolling away, Jackson got Ulster on the board. A first try looked set to arrive under the shadow of the posts, but Leinster's defence held firm and referee Ian Davies spotted hands in the ruck. No yellow was forthcoming but Jackson duly reduced the deficit to one score.

Minutes before the turn, Ulster got their first try. Clever play by Ruan Pienaar created the opening but necessitated Callum Black to operate as scrum-half.

The prop popped the ball up for Jackson who in turn looked for Gilroy, the winger squeezing over in the corner.

Their momentum looked set to carry into the second-half when a Henderson gallop had them on the front foot but a determined stand eventually saw Leinster force the penalty.

From there, the Blues wrestled back control. The dancing feet of Garry Ringrose caused problems and created an overlap ruthlessly exploited.

Sexton found Te'o who produced a spectacular offload for Heaslip. Jackson was game in his attempted tackle but the Irish No.8 ran straight over the out-half. Cullen called on his bench to spring Irish internationals Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong and the front-row replacements immediately made their presence felt.

It was then that Leinster's presumed advantage in the scrum came to the fore, first through a penalty that extended the lead to 12 points and then through a third try.

Another beautifully measured kick from Sexton pinned Ulster back with Franco van der Merwe knocking on from the ensuing lineout.

A Henry knock-on followed and brought another set-piece that eventually saw Sean Cronin rumble over.

Ulster then responded with a try through Gilroy.

Had they forced their way over from one of three trips to the Leinster 22, a grandstand finish could have been in store but the Blues, yet again, held firm.

Instead, it was just another chapter in what is becoming quite the lengthy book of Ulster heartbreak in the RDS.

Leinster: I Nacewa (captain), D Kearney, G Ringrose, B Te'o, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; J McGrath, R Strauss, M Ross; D Toner, M Kearney; R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Heaslip.

Replacements: S Cronin (for Strauss, 52), P Dooley (for McGrath,68) , T Furlong (for Ross, 52), R Moloney (for M Kearney, 65), J Conan (for Ruddock, 73), L McGrath (for Reddan, 68) I Madigan (for Te'o 68) Z Kirchner (Nacewa, 49).

Ulster: J Payne; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best (captain), R Lutton, P Browne, F van der Merwe, I Henderson, C Henry, S Reidy.

Replacements: R Herring (for Best, 73), K McCall (Black, 46), A Warwick (for Lutton, 61), R Diack (for Browne, 65), R Wilson (for Reidy, 61), P Marshall (for Pienaar, 75), S Olding (for McCloskey, 57), D Cave (for Marshall, 68)

Referee: Ian Davies

Match rating: 8/10

Belfast Telegraph

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