Ulster's away day agony continues against Leinster
Leinster 8-3 Ulster
Ulster failed to improve upon their poor recent record in Dublin last night as a losing bonus point was all they took home from their interpro with Leinster at the RDS.
A first-half Paddy Jackson penalty was all they could muster and while Leinster’s increased creativity was met with determined defence from the visitors, Leo Cullen’s side did at least manage to cross the whitewash on one occasion.
That crucial score came from Sean Cronin as half-time neared with neither side adding to their tallies after the turn.
The result meant a third defeat in four games for Ulster as they fell out of the league’s top six.
The Leinster scrum, so heavily criticised after their showing against Bath at the Rec last week, won a penalty at the first set-piece of the game with Ulster not seeing the ball again before Jonny Sexton punished a Wiehahn Herbst offside with a straightforward shot at the posts with five minutes on the clock.
Ulster had the chance for a quick response after Sexton knocked on the restart to give the visitors possession, but Paddy Jackson was wayward off the tee with a breakdown penalty he will have felt should have brought three points.
Four minutes later, there was no such trouble, however, as the out-half tucked a more difficult effort inside the right-hand post.
In what wasn’t a precursor of things to come, both teams were attacking brightly, with Sexton and Ian Madigan prominent for Cullen’s men and it was the former’s cross-field kick that set Luke Fitzgerald haring up the touchline only for Ulster to clear the danger when Isa Nacewa, a late inclusion after Rob Kearney’s hamstring tightened in the captain’s run, was bundled into touch.
Ulster continued to have the better of the territory though only for Jack McGrath to eke another penalty out of Wiehahn Herbst at the scrum.
As Leinster attacked swiftly from the line-out, Craig Gilroy was fingertips away from intercepting Sexton’s fired pass to Fitzgerald, but the wing gathered regardless and Andrew Trimble slipped into touch when fielding the subsequent probing kick to the corner.
Ulster halted the maul and numerous attempts from Leinster’s forwards to barge their way over, with Devin Toner held up over the line, and after more resolute play in the tight, Zane Kirchner knocked the ball on thanks to a poor pass from Nacewa when they tried to move it wide.
Leinster were banging on the door now as the half entered its final stages.
Eoin Reddan was on for the injured Luke McGrath and the scrum-half almost exploited an opportunity, but when John Lacey brought play back for a third penalty on Ulster’s scrum, Sexton went for the corner only for his side’s to make a mess of the line-out.
Next time though, there was no such luck for Kiss’s men as Cronin found Jamie Heaslip and the ball was returned to the hooker to rumble over.
Sexton couldn’t convert and Leinster took a five point lead into the half.
That lead should have been doubled shortly after the restart when Rhys Ruddock exposed some poor tackling in the Ulster line but, after an important intervention from Pete Nelson to halt the flanker, Ben Te’o couldn’t handle the pace of Sexton’s fired pass with the line at his mercy.
Despite the reprieve, Ulster were defending again soon after but, with Leinster camped in their ‘22’, big hits and errors from the hosts kept the deficit at five.
Having seen so little of the ball since early on, an Ulster attack through Andrew Trimble came from nowhere.
The wing led the charge with a surging run, and shrugged off the attempted tackle of Kirchner to approach the 22, and had Gilroy on his inside shoulder.
Leinster got back in numbers, but gave away the penalty and Ulster opted against the chance for three points in favour of the corner.
Given the scarcity of territory they had enjoyed since falling behind, the passage felt crucial and Leinster were given a huge shot in the arm when substitute prop Martin Moore got over the top of Diack and forced the flanker into conceding the penalty.
Sexton limped off, his replacement Noel Reid soon followed him down the tunnel with a nasty looking injury, as Ulster continued to enjoy an encouraging spell without being able to force a breakthrough.
The teams traded fruitless spells in possession for the final quarter, Madigan attempting two off target drop goals while half-breaks were as good as Ulster could muster.
Indeed, as they moved through a plethora of phases long after the clock turned red, a game winner never seemed on the cards before a Chris Henry knock-on near the half-way line brought an end to proceedings.