LEINSTER RUGBY 18 ULSTER RUGBY 3: (13/05/2011) Pro12 semi-final, RDS Arena In a season where Ulster returned to the European quarter-finals for the first time since their victorious campaign in 1999, a first Pro12 play-off berth was also booked thanks to third-placed finish in the league.
The semi-final proved to be a bridge too far for Brian McLaughlin’s men as Leinster prepared for a Heineken Cup final against Northampton with a comfortable win.
They held Ulster scoreless bar a Ruan Pienaar penalty from inside his own half just past the hour mark as Fergus McFadden and Luke Fitzgerald ran in tries. The game is still the lowest ever scoring Pro12 play-off with Ulster the only team not to manage more than three points. A young Ulster team was preparing for an even bigger campaign next time around but Leinster would be in the way once again.
Ulster’s Heineken Cup campaign had already required them to see off one inter-provincial rival with the most memorable of victories over Munster at Thomond Park in the last eight but, after overcoming surprise semi-finalists Edinburgh, the final and another meeting with Leinster would end the journey on a sour note.
Ulster were second best out of the gate in front of a sold-out Twickenham with Leinster (left) establishing a record points tally and winning margin for a Heineken Cup final. In all, they ran in six tries, although it was a 10-point game as late as the hour mark when Dan Tuohy went over for Ulster. Leinster scored the game’s final 18 points and then-captain Leo Cullen’s men won the northern hemisphere’s top prize for a third time in four years.
With Brian McLaughlin replaced by Kiwi Mark Anscombe for the 2012/13 campaign, a season that began with the tragic death of Nevin Spence in September saw Ulster win their first 13 games.
As they prepared for a Heineken Cup quarter-final with Saracens, this trip to Dublin produced a first win at the home of their inter-provincial rivals since 1999.
Robbie Diack had already crossed when Iain Henderson scored his second ever Ulster try but six penalties from the boot of Ian Madigan had Leinster within four points going into the closing stages.
Sean Cronin darted over with the clock red but substitute prop Kyle McCall, making his senior debut, held up the hooker. Referee George Clancy added a touch of farce by blowing the final whistle before then asking for the TMO but the win was confirmed. Leinster would, however, have the last laugh...
Ulster topped the end-of-season standings and finished the campaign three points ahead of their D4 counterparts having done the double over Joe Schmidt’s men but with what was then Ravenhill yet to be fully redeveloped, and in the days before pre-determined final venues, the show-piece conclusion to the season took place in the RDS.
With Ulster having won there just two months prior, confidence was high that a first trophy since 2006 was on the cards but Leinster again had the upper hand. A perfect six from six off the tee from Ruan Pienaar (above) had Ulster within touching distance but Leinster bagged a try in either half.
Shane Jennings crossed first before Jamie Heaslip extended the advantage to secure victory in Schmidt’s final game before taking the Ireland job.
After Leinster had won a game in which Tom Court was shown an early red card at Ravenhill in the penultimate game of the regular season, the rivals were thrown together again for an RDS semi-final. A final Ulster game for fans’ hero Johann Muller, the loss ensured the Springbok World Cup winner would depart Ulster without a trophy to show for his four-year spell. The visitors entered the game very much the underdogs in play-offs dominated by talk of Brian O’Driscoll’s impending retirement but a trio of Paddy Jackson penalties had them 9-0 in front during the second-half.
They failed to deliver the killer blow of a try despite their early dominance and Leinster came back through the boot of Jimmy Gopperth before Ian Madigan’s late score completed the comeback.