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Leinster were as bad as I’ve seen them but only because of the pressure Ulster piled on

Darren Cave


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Leinster’s Harry Byrne and Will Connors with Craig Gilroy of Ulster.

Leinster’s Harry Byrne and Will Connors with Craig Gilroy of Ulster.

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Ulster's John Cooney takes a penalty against Leinster

Ulster's John Cooney takes a penalty against Leinster

©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Former Ulster centre Darren Cave writes for Sunday Life Sport in association with Premier Sports

Former Ulster centre Darren Cave writes for Sunday Life Sport in association with Premier Sports

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

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Leinster’s Harry Byrne and Will Connors with Craig Gilroy of Ulster.

Genuinely, I was surprised. I did think Ulster had a chance, but I didn’t think they would be that dominant.

You always have to go into games believing you’re going to win and Ulster certainly did that. They obviously went down and wanted to roll the dice, so to speak.

The Connacht performance before the international break was so poor, and the break after that was the worst thing for them. In that game I was very critical of how they played and the game plan they had to try to break down Connacht — they seemed to have no ideas.

Last night I thought it was the complete opposite. Ulster had a well thought out and well executed plan to keep the ball. They were really narrow, but they kept hold of the ball, changed direction a lot. Leinster filled the pitch well, they’re hard to get around, but Ulster didn’t even try to get around them and that frustrated the life out of them.

Without the ball, they were immense. I’ll admit they flirted with the offside line all night and hit Leinster as hard as they could, and they also got a little bit of luck as well.

The line-speed, they almost got caught out a couple of times, but it almost didn’t matter because that was the plan.

The biggest issue when you go to play Leinster is their selection. When the teams come out it’s almost boring because the internationals you want to be playing aren’t usually there.

I always thought you were better playing a full-strength Leinster team and trying to get them on a bad night than playing guys who are fighting for places and fighting for contracts. That was the Leinster they came up against last night and I thought Ulster were going to find it really hard.

Leinster, however, were really, really poor, as bad as I’ve seen them. That being said, I think that was off the back of Ulster’s pressure.

Leinster will see it the other way. They’ll look at their mistakes, the penalties they gave away, the chances they didn’t take, and that is a fair point, but Ulster’s plan was to disrupt Leinster and they did that magnificently.

Even when Leinster won line-outs, you could see that they were just slapping it back to Luke McGrath and he always seemed to be fishing it out from between his legs rather than playing it cleanly. Leinster will look at that and think it was poor, but I would praise Ulster for their physicality.

James Hume played really, really well. Obviously the intercept try was the icing on the cake, but some of his physicality in the contact area was superb. He was one of the many Ulster players who got stuck in last night.

Not playing in the Autumn Internationals won’t have done him any harm. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw, just exposing him to that level of preparation was a big step for him.

It’s all about momentum for Ulster now. You look at the first four games of the season when they were dominant against, at times, dreadful opposition. The beating in the Aviva was unbelievable, I couldn’t believe how bad they were, and if they lost last night then they were staring down the barrel.

Away to the Ospreys is never easy, and then if you look at the fixture list after that, you would start to look back and think ‘we were four from four, how did we get into this position?’ But in terms of momentum, this is a big, big win.

Now the challenge is trying to keep it going.

*Darren Cave is part of the Premier Sports team bringing live TV coverage of every Ulster game home and away throughout the season in the United Rugby Championship. Premier Sports will have full live coverage of Ulster’s trip to Wales next weekend to take on the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium. All the action will be live on Premier Sports 1 from 2.30pm on Saturday, December 4. UK sports broadcaster Premier Sports shows every Ulster game LIVE and hosts more than 100 exclusive rugby fixtures throughout United Rugby Championship. Find out more at www.premiersports.com


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