Magners League: No excuses as Ulster are destroyed
Leinster 34 Ulster 26: Ulster captain Rory Best’s words ahead of Saturday night’s Magners League interpro at the RDS proved impressively prophetic.
“We know in terms of intensity have to be right up there. There’s a little bit of a fear factor that, if you’re not there, a good team like that are going to punish you,” Best warned.
Leinster underlined his words in the opening 14 minutes of Saturday night’s Ballbridge battle, bagging three tries as they romped to a 17-3 lead.
Thus Ulster were blown away in a from-the-first-whistle blitzkrieg from which they never recovered, albeit that they fought manfully to the end and actually ended up outscoring their rivals by 14-7 in the second period.
It was all in vain, however. Leinster lead 27-12 at the interval, by which stage they had a four-try bonus point in the bag. And when they added a fifth touchdown four minutes into the second period to open up a 22-point chasm they eased off.
It says something for the depth of their squad that they never missed Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll or his centre partner Gordon D’Arcy. The pair – nursing minor injuries sustained in Leinster’s European Cup quarter-final victory over Leicester Tigers a week earlier – watched from the grandstand as their colleagues turned it on.
Irish first-choice props Cian Healy and Mike Ross were on the bench, ditto fellow-international scrum-half Eoin Reddan. ** elapsed before Leinster deployed tighthead
Ross. When Healy came on, with four minutes minutes remaining, it was on the flank. Reddan was not used at all.
Ulster, in contrast, had no choice but to take to the pitch without unwell loosehead, Tom Court, in whose absence 21-year-old Paddy McAllister was upgraded.
Injured Johann Muller (dead leg) was a second row absentee who, as a leader, was sorely missed, too.
Leinster scored their first try with little over 70 seconds on the clock. Jonathan Sexton’s clever chip into the left corner had Adam D’Arcy struggling. Eoin O’Malley arrived o compound Ulster’s problems, hooker Richardt Strauss got over and the hosts were off the mark. Ian Humphreys then hit a penalty from the 10-metre line to make it 5-3, but it was to be the 17th minute before the fly-half got a second opportunity off the tee and in the interim Leinster added two more tries.
The first came seconds after Humphreys’ 7th minute goal with Luke Fitzgerald finishing the work of Isaac Boss, Sexton and full-back Isa Nacewa whose arrival saw the Ulster defence part like the Red Sea.
Five minutes later the lead became 17-3 when centre Fergus McFadden’s long pass put Shane Horgan away wide right. For the first time in three attempts Sexton was on target with his conversion.
Ulster were being taken apart. Everywhere Leinster had players on song, both as individuals and in terms of their contribution to the collective. Flankers Kevin McLaughlin and Shane Jennings were outstanding, as were centres McFadden and O’Malley.
Their front five played as one, as did their middle quintet, their halves and their back three. Leinster have welded aggression to aptitude, passion to panache, focus to flair in a cocktail so potent as to be lethal.
Ulster could not match them, albeit that they never stopped trying. Two further Humphreys penalties kept them hanging in at 17-9. Sexton replied with one to put 11 points between the sides with just over half an hour gone, following which Pedrie Wannenburg earned himself 10 very costly minutes in the bin.
From the penalty which followed, Leinster promptly set up a driving maul against the seven re
maining Ulster forwards, pushing them in-field to enable Heinke van der Merwe to score at the posts with Sexton’s extras leaving it 27-12 at the break, Ruan Pienaar having kicked a goal on the stroke of half-time.
Play resumed with Wannenburg still sidelined and during the big flanker’s period of reflection Horgan scored his second and Leinster’s fifth try, courtesy of Nacewa’s soft hands and the winger’s own clever chip and catch.
The unrelenting physicality, pace and accuracy of the hosts’ play up until that moment had been quite remarkable, but when they dropped it a fraction plucky Ulster made the most of the reprieve by scoring 14 unanswered points.
Wannenburg made some amends for his indiscretion by scoring a 53rd minute try which Pienaar converted and with five minutes remaining Craig Gilroy, who had impressed throughout, cleverly wriggled and twisted his way clear for a richly deserved eighth try of the campaign.
Pienaar’s conversion left Ulster a point shy of a losing bonus which may yet prove costly.
Afterwards captain Best said: “In an interpro, a local derby, to concede five tries means we’re bitterly disappointed.
“In the first 40 minutes they just outmuscled us.”