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'Dream come true': Marcus Rea discusses scoring on Ulster debut alongside brother Matthew

Ulster 14 Leinster 13

Marcus Rea celebrating with his brother Matthew
Marcus Rea celebrating with his brother Matthew
Instant impact: Marcus Rea drives through the Leinster defence to score the decisive try on his Ulster debut
Dave Shanahan
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

It may not have been the most intense of interpros between Ulster and Leinster on Saturday evening but it was a game that will live long in the memory of all those connected with the Rea household.

With both sides already assured of their final positions in PRO14's conference B, the raft of changes made by Ulster coach Dan McFarland saw Academy back-row Marcus Rea brought onto the bench for a first time.

The former Irish under-20 international was thrown into the fray after only 15 minutes thanks to Sean Reidy's early injury, making the most of his opportunity with a try to seal the 14-13 triumph.

Scrum-half Dave Shanahan had gone over for the hosts in the first-half but they had trailed 13-7 when Rea finally broke Leinster resistance by muscling his way across the whitewash with 20 minutes remaining.

Pete Nelson's subsequent conversion nudged Ulster ahead by a solitary point, a lead they wouldn't relinquish over the course of the final quarter.

It was enough to earn the debutant Rea man of the match honours with the young flanker thrilled to share the moment with his elder brother Matthew who started the game in the number six jersey.

"Safe to say it's a dream come true," said the 21-year-old. "First and foremost just to get on the pitch with Matthew, just to make the parents proud basically.

"That's what this week was about for me, the other stuff was an added bonus."

Following in the footsteps of the Bests, Simon and Rory, and the Cunninghams, Jan and Bryn, there was a time when the pair thought their dream of pulling on the white jersey together had passed. Matthew was not initially offered a place in the Academy intake, earning his place in the set-up only after a string of impressive performances for Ballymena.

"There was a stage in Matthew's career when maybe he didn't know if he was going to make it," reflected Marcus. "He was 24 when he got his first cap, he came through the club set-up with Ballymena, played well there and got a break to get into the sub-Academy.

"I think even then I said to him, 'look, we're going to do this together'. Now that we have, hopefully there's many more games to come."

Rea admitted the past week had been something of a whirlwind for "a country boy from Glarryford".

Having trained last Monday in the familiar confines of Queen's Dub Lane ground, he was told that morning he'd be on the bench, with his father - who would later be given the man of the match medal -the first to be told the good news.

Naturally, nerves were to the fore as the match got ever closer.

"It didn't really kick in until around 3 o'clock (Saturday) when I got to the stadium," said the man who previously this season played two friendlies at Kingspan.

"The first few days I was so worried about getting my roles down and not letting the team down first and foremost. It all paid off with the hard work I'd done at the start of the week and having Matthew there who helped me the whole way through the week, I was asking him questions.

"He's always been a great influence on my career, watching him and obviously being very proud of him as well as seeing what I can learn off him.

"He basically said just do your thing. It was more the last 10 minutes asking him to help me out and help me get over the line.

"The likes of Alan O'Connor there and Nick Timoney were helping me out as well.

"Credit to those boys, the other back rowers that were there helped me over the line and half the credit's to them. Me knowing my own detail is up to me, but they were helping me do my own thing out on the pitch."

Without his try, Ulster likely would have faced a fifth consecutive defeat by Leinster but his crossing of the line rewarded an extended spell of pressure sparked by a dramatic turnaround in the scrum in the second-half. Still, the visitors defended stoutly for an age before Rea forced his way over.

"I just kinda saw the gap," he said. "I think it was their seven folded around and I took my opportunity.

"We'd done stuff like that, that type of scenario stuff where we're grappling for the ball and trying to get over the line, with (skills coach) Dan Soper in the gym. You don't really understand (why) when you do it, but you're thankful you have and you're thankful for coaches like him bringing stuff, however small it may seem at the time, into training. It's got us over the line in the end."

The younger Rea's try-scoring exploits will give him bragging rights across the dinner table.

"(Matthew) is still to get on the scoreboard yet so I can keep him going about that," laughed Marcus.

"He came pretty close but he's to do a bit more work in the gym maybe!"

Even among two so close, there's always room for a bit of sibling rivalry.

ULSTER: M Lowry; D Busby, D Cave (c), P Nelson, A Kernohan; J McPhillips, D Shanahan; A Warwick, J Andrew, R Kane; I Nagle, A O'Connor; Matthew Rea, C Ross, S Reidy

Replacements: Marcus Rea for S Reidy, 15 mins; T O'Toole for Kane, 41; A McBurney for Andrew, 53; J Stewart for Shanahan, 56; J Owens for McPhillips, 57; T O'Hagan for Warwick, 64; N Timoney for O'Connor, 64.

LEINSTER: J O'Brien; F McFadden, J Tomane, N Reid, D Kearney, R Byrne (c), N McCarthy; J McGrath, B Byrne, M Bent; O Dowling, J Murphy; M Deegan, W Connors, C Doris.

Replacements: P Dooley for McGrath, 43; C Frawley for R Byrne, 43; Ronan Kelleher for B Byrne, 53: V Abadaladze for Bent, 63; B Daly for McFadden, 63; S Penny for Deegan, 63; R Baird for Murphy, 63; P Patterson for Daly, 66.

REFEREE: G Clancy (IRE)

Man of the match: Marcus Rea

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