Belfast Telegraph

Ulster looking strong ahead of pro12 opener against Scarlets with over Leinster

Leinster 7 Ulster 10

By Brendan Fanning

Ulster have spent a small fortune on their gym in the redeveloped Kingspan Stadium. From what we saw here in Tallaght on Saturday they're getting good value from it.

They spent most of the second half on the back foot, into a stiff breeze, but in the first 40 minutes – before the heavy human traffic started off the bench – they gave muscular, disciplined performance which will certainly have pleased their interim coach Les Kiss.

With 27 replacements used, between the two sides, we had almost two different games, but when the contest was at its most stable Ulster looked handy enough.

Their latest batch of South Africans all did well – full back Louis Ludik, tighthead Wiehann Herbst and second-row Franco van der Merwe – but the sight of Stuart Olding going off was something Kiss, and the watching Joe Schmidt, could have done without.

Kiss said afterwards there wasn't much to worry about. For Leinster the story with flanker Dan Leavy looked a good deal more bleak.

"I think it's a medial strain, it's not too serious he should be out for a couple of weeks," Leinster coach Matt O'Connor said of Leavy.

"It's important for guys to get some time in and a run before we rock up to Glasgow for the onslaught they will give us.

"They will be incredibly motivated because of what happened at the end of last season."

Leavy is an outstanding prospect who already has travelled a hard road on the injury front, and needed two helpers to cart him off yesterday.

Otherwise for the home team there was limited good news.

Fergus McFadden was sharp and Cian Healy hungry for work alongside Bryan Byrne, who carried very well and got his side's only try.

Off the bench, full back Cian Kelleher also did well but that was about it.

Ulster were by far the better side in the first half, scoring inside three minutes through Jared Payne, who looked as composed as ever as he got yet another run at outside centre.

They were 10 points clear after a second fine strike by Ian Humphreys when they produced the best move of the match, which ironically yielded nothing.

It started it at a short lineout in their own 22, taken on powerfully by captain Roger Wilson.

Having shifted it wide they then worked a lovely switch with Payne, and from the next phase Humphreys dinked a perfect cross-field kick for Michael Allen, who spilled in trying to gather it.

A pity that, but it was confirmation if it was needed of the direction of the traffic.

Leinster defended much more aggressively after the break and Ian Madigan looked typically dangerous when carrying close in.

The nearest they came to a second try was another clean break from McFadden. It died well short of the Ulster line.

Ulster assistant coach Jonny Bell, meanwhile says he still has no idea how long Kiss will be at the helm, but that he would have no problem with him taking over on a permanent basis.

Bell also denied that Ulster are in a state of disarray ahead of the new season and despite admitting to just preparing the team for 'the here and now' he says there is still a long-term coaching plan in place.

"Look, we are in a good place. We know the things that we have got to work on. We know we have to get a lot of things right," he said.

"But the players have knuckled down extremely hard over the summer. Our job is to make sure these guys are prepared to step up to the plate next Saturday against the Scarlets."

He added: "Les is a fantastic coach. He's done a terrific job, he's hugely respected by the players. He's come in and he's dealing with the here and now and what we need to do to get ready for the forthcoming season. I have the utmost respect for him.

"There is not short-term planning because we are planning as a coaching team to make sure that the players are prepared in the best possible way for the future. There is no short-term from that perspective.

"We've had a lot of consistency in our coaching staff, Neil (Doak), myself, Niall Malone and Allen Clarke have been with Ulster Rugby for a while and we've been working hard together.

"So looking forward we know that we're ready and prepared as a coaching unit. Whatever happens in the future with regards to the director of rugby it won't change our focus on delivering for this team this year."

The tie was notable because of the return of Irish international Olding following a cruciate ligament lay off, and Bell confirmed that his early withdrawal was due to a hand injury.

Sean O'Brien also made an eye-catching comeback to the Leinster colours.

Scorers – Leinster: B Byrne try, I Madigan con.

Ulster: J Payne try, I Humphreys con, pen.

Leinster: Z Kirchner (Kelleher 40); F McFadden (T Daly 59), B Macken (S Coghlan Murray 40), S Crosbie, D Fanning (M McGrath 40); J Gopperth (I Madiga 40), L McGrath (I Boss 40); C Healy (M Bent 40), B Byrne (T Moran 59), M Ross (T Furlong 52); K McLaughlin, M McCarthy (B Marshall 46); J Conan (T Denton 40), S Jennings (J Van der Flier 59), S O'Brien (D Leavy 18-22 blood & 49 (G Thornbury 64)).

Ulster: L Ludik (R Andrew 40); M Allen (R Scholes 18-26 blood (J Stockdale 52)), J Payne (L Ludik 70), S Olding (R Scholes 38), C Gilroy; I Humphreys (S O'Hagan 49), P Marshall (M Heaney 67); A Warwick (J Andrew 63), R Herring (C Black 67), W Herbst (D Fitzpatrick 36 (B Ross 67)); D Tuohy (N McComb 63 (Stevenson 67), F Van Der Merwe (A O'Connor 52); R Diack (M McComish 71), S Reidy (C Ross 55 (C Joyce 71)), R Wilson (N Williams 40 (K McCall 72)).

Referee: G Clancy (IRFU).

Attendance: 3,500

Belfast Telegraph

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