Planet Rugby

Leinster crowned PRO12 champions

25th May 2013 18:35

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Leinster s Jonny Sexton lifts the Pro12 trophy

Winning exit: Jonathan Sexton

Leinster claimed their second trophy this year thanks to a 24-18 victory over Irish rivals Ulster in the PRO12 Final at the RDS in Dublin on Saturday.

Just a week after clinching the Challenge Cup, Leinster erased memories of last season's lost final by leading from start to finish on home soil.

Tries on either side of half time from Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip saw a classy Leinster side secure a deserved domestic and European double.

Ulster responded manfully through the boot of Ruan Pienaar, but a sizeable error count handed the initiative to their provincial rivals. In truth, the boys in blue were the better side.

For Leinster, this superb performance copper fastens their status as one of the pre-eminent forces in Europe, delivering the elusive league title they so craved, and giving Joe Schmidt a worthy send off.

It was an energetic start from both sides, but a poor kick from Paddy Jackson immediately handed the momentum to Leinster on the three-minute mark. From the ensuing line-out, a pick and go from the Leinster back row saw Jennings drive over for the opening try. Jonathan Sexton converted to give Leinster the perfect start.

The Challenge Cup champions were assuredly in the ascendancy, and the departing Sexton compounded Ulster's misery on seven minutes, when he slotted a penalty to make it 10-0 to the Dubliners.

But Ulster responded as they desperately needed to. A series of scrums on the Leinster five-metre line saw John Afoa turn the screw on Cian Healy. The Ulster pack seemed to have the Leinster line at their mercy, but Nick Williams failed to control at the base and Ian Madigan was able to clear Leinster's lines to avert danger.

Ulster appeared to have settled their palpable nerves by the 15 minute mark, and began to secure parity in terms of possession. Robbie Diack seemed to have squeezed in at the corner on 17 minutes, but Sexton did really well to hold him up.

For all Ulster's endeavour, Leinster seemed very much in control, but were certainly assisted by Ulster's profligacy. Pienaar reduced the deficit on 23 minutes to make it 10-3 to the erstwhile European champions.

Leinster by now were exhibiting superb line speed in defence, and proved extremely efficient and physical in the contact area. Sexton extended Leinster's lead on 33 minutes, when he converted a magnificent penalty from over the half way line.

But the breakdown contest was descending into a free for all, and Leinster conceded a penalty a minute later, allowing Pienaar to reduce the arrears to seven. The back row battle, as expected, was being ferociously contested, and the penalty count was accumulating for both teams. Sexton extended Leinster's lead even further on 39 minutes, when Ulster conceded yet another penalty at the breakdown.

The second half began with Ulster urgently trying to regain the momentum, and assert themselves. But Leinster continued to dominate the breakdown battle. Leinster's tangible superiority witnessed Sexton extend the advantage even further on 45 minutes, making it 19-6 to the southern province.

Simultaneously Ulster's cause was damaged further when Diack was dismissed to the sin-bin.

Leinster's lead was beginning to look unassailable at this stage. Ulster did respond on 47 minutes when a sublime break by Jackson carved open the Leinster defence, and the young fly-half was somewhat unfortunate not to create a try. Pienaar converted the ensuing penalty to make it 19-9.

The nominal hosts were beginning to claw back the lead, however, and reduced Leinster's advantage further on 51 minutes when Pienaar slotted another penalty following an infringement by Madigan. Although Leinster were undeniably the better side, Ulster were tenaciously re-establishing a foothold in the game.

And the penalty count was starting to negate the Blues' supremacy. Thus it was Pienaar who scored next, when he continued his flawless kicking effort to reduce the lead to four points.

But Leinster responded as champion teams do. The Irish kingpins marched ominously into the Ulster half, and launched a succession of drives.

From there, Leinster camped themselves in Ulster's 22, and the team from Belfast's rearguard struggled desperately to hold on. But they found themselves stretched and, with the referee playing advantage, Heaslip scored Leinster's second and decisive try.

Pienaar rekindled Ulster hopes on 69 minutes to make it 24-18.

But Leinster held on to seal victory, and cement their reputation as the greatest Irish province of the modern era.

The scorers:

For Ulster:
Pens: Pienaar 6
Yellow card: Diack

For Leinster:
Tries: Jennings, Heaslip
Con: Sexton
Pens: Sexton 3
Yellow cards: Nacewa

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Michael Allen, 23 Peter Nelson.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Ian Madigan, 11 Isa Nacewa, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Leo Cullen (c), 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 John Cooney, 22 Andrew Goodman, 23 Andrew Conway.

Venue: RDS, Dublin
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Television match official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)
Citing Commissioner: Achille Reali (Italy)

By Rory McGimpsey

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