Leinster moved into the top four of the Guinness PRO12 standings after they saw off Ulster 24-11 at the RDS in Dublin on Saturday.
An efficient and aggressive forward effort saw Leinster take the spoils in an entertaining inter-provincial derby. The hosts seized control of this game through an opportunistic Ian Madigan try, and the fly-half also contributed four penalties in a fine performance.
As impressive as Madigan was, his effort was eclipsed by an intelligent and robust performance from the Leinster forwards. The men in blue dominated at the breakdown, and when brilliant blindside Jack Conan added a late second try, Leinster’s dominance was rewarded with a win that puts them right back in contention.
Ulster replied with a good try by prop Wiehahn Herbst and two Ruan Pienaar penalties, but were afflicted badly by indiscipline; and couldn’t deny their provincial rivals.
As expected, the game got off to a thunderous start, with Ulster showing impressive continuity in the opening few minutes. Visiting forwards Roger Wilson and Rory Best were particularly conspicuous in this regard. Both sides were energetic and vigorous, but the patterns were disrupted by handing errors brought on by the unremitting physicality.
Leinster, for their part, tried to play territory through the brilliant kicking of Madigan, but Ulster full-back Peter Nelson was equal to the challenge.
After the opening ten minutes, then, there was precious little between the sides; with defences dominating. It was Ulster that had the first chance to break the deadlock on 13 minutes when Pienaar attempted a 40 metre penalty, but his kick fell short via the woodwork.
But the South African scrum-half atoned for the miss two minutes later when he landed a long distance penalty after Leinster had been penalised for a high tackle on Stuart Olding.
Ulster were now edging it 0-3, and just about deserved the slender lead. But the hosts hit back purposefully, and were awarded a penalty on 21 minutes when Ulster slowed down good ruck ball in the home 22. Madigan nailed the simple kick to level things at 3-3.
But Ulster came again, running hard lines, and stringing together multiple phases in the Leinster half. One such incursion paid dividends for the visitors on 25 minutes when they were awarded another kickable penalty, and Pienaar slotted it to establish a 3-6 lead.
Frustratingly for Ulster, though, the hosts equalised the score again on 31 minutes when openside Clive Ross was pinged not rolling away. Madigan again did the needful to bring the score back to 6-6.
It was a fascinating encounter, full of unforced errors; but always compelling nevertheless. The home side will have been particularly frustrated by their mistakes, and their fluidity wasn’t helped when skipper Jamie Heaslip went off with an injury.
But for all Ulster’s endeavour in the first half, they couldn’t edge ahead of the tenacious hosts, and they conceded a plethora of soft penalties.
It was Leinster who regained the lead right on 40 minutes when Dan Tuohy was penalised for illegally coming through on Isaac Boss at a ruck. Madigan nailed the resultant kick to give the hosts a 9-6 half-time lead.
Leinster turned up the intensity at the beginning of the second-half, which saw the Dublin side diligently go through the phases in Ulster territory. The Ulster defence repelled the first of these attacks, but conceded a penalty five metres from their line. Rather than kick the easy three points, the quick thinking Madigan tapped the penalty and caught the Ulster defence napping to bag the first try of the contest.
The Irish fly-half converted his effort to make it 16-6 to the Leinster. The hosts looked well on top, with a 14-man Ulster starting to look rattled. But credit to the visitors, who managed to establish some field position in the home 22, and on 49 minutes Herbst crashed over to score. It was a good effort by the Ulster pack considering that Tuohy was still serving time in the bin. Unfortunately for the visitors, Pienaar missed the conversion to leave it 16-11 to Leinster.
It was Leinster that dominated possession thereafter, with Boss controlling the tempo, and Luke Fitzgerald exploiting gaps in midfield. Their dominance finally earned its award on 60 minutes when Madigan kicked another penalty to increase the lead to 19-11. It was the least the hosts deserved following a sustained period of pressure.
The home side seemed to have a definite edge in the contact areas, and they were able to keep Ulster pinned back through Madigan’s superb kicking out of hand. And the hosts proved adept at closing out the contest, deploying an effective running game that wasn’t affected by the raft of substitutions.
At one stage, replacement Gopperth seemed to have got over for another try, but the TMO confirmed that he had edged the ball forward in his attempt.
When man-of-the-match Conan got over for a deserved try right at the death, however, the win was well and truly sealed. A super victory, therefore, that sends Leinster into the play-off places. If they can sustain this level of performance and get some of their injured players back, last year’s winners will be tough to beat in 2015.
Tries: Madigan, Conan
Pen: Madigan 4
Pen: Pienaar 2
Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Luke Fitzgerald, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Issac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Jack Conan, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Michael Bent, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Jimmy Gopperth, 23 Ben Te’o.
Ulster: 15 Peter Nelson, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Clive Ross, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Luke Marshall.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Eddie Hogan-O’Connell (Ireland), Mark Connolly (Ireland)
Television match official: Jude Quinn (Ireland)
By Rory McGimpsey