Ireland’s big guns shine as Leinster dominate Ulster to saunter into United Rugby Championship semi-finals

Planet Rugby
Josh van der Flier in action for Leinster against Ulster in the 2024 URC quarter-final.

Josh van der Flier in action for Leinster against Ulster in the 2024 URC quarter-final.

Leinster overcame a mediocre first quarter to breeze into the United Rugby Championship (URC) semi-finals following a dominant 43-20 triumph over provincial rivals Ulster at the Aviva Stadium.

Leo Cullen’s men were put under pressure early on but, once Robbie Henshaw went over after 20 minutes, they eased into the last-four.

James Lowe followed Henshaw across the whitewash – Ross Byrne converting both and adding a penalty – to move the Dubliners into a comfortable 17-0 advantage at the break.

Ulster did get on the board in the second period via a John Cooney penalty, while David McCann, Stewart Moore and Michael Lowry did touch down for the visitors, but Leinster were comfortably the better team.

Lowe crossed the whitewash to complete his brace and Jordan Larmour, Josh van der Flier and Ross Molony also went over to rubberstamp the victory and Leinster’s passage into the URC semi-finals, where they will take on the Bulls in South Africa.

The Ireland stars were back in the XV after being given a week off following their agonising Champions Cup final defeat to Toulouse and the likes of Joe McCarthy, Caelan Doris and Van der Flier put in big performances on Saturday.

Click here for teams and scorers

Leinster had no points to show for some early pressure, brought on by a maul steal from player-of-the-match McCarthy.

A Cormac Izuchukwu break had the visitors threatening, but Matty Rea was unable to link with Cooney, and Nick Timoney was held up.

Izuchukwu’s injury-enforced departure was a big blow for Ulster, as was the sight of Henshaw striding over for the game’s opening try in the 21st minute after Jamie Osborne had broken out of Moore’s tackle to supply the assist.

Byrne converted and tagged on a 30th-minute penalty, and it was his inside pass that released Lowe to further increase Leinster’s advantage

With Richie Murphy’s Ulster side pressing to get back into the game before the interval, Greg Jones knocked on and Leinster, infringing again near their own line, avoided a yellow card before a key Ryan Baird lineout steal.

Cooney finally got Ulster up and running with a 43rd-minute penalty but Leinster quickly responded with Lowe deftly displaying his footballing skills along the left touchline, nudging the ball through before touching down and opening up a 19-point gap.

Cooney’s precise skip pass put McCann over, as the game became looser. Crucially though, Leinster always had the answers.

Ulster player ratings: Powerhouse Ireland hopeful shines despite thrashing by Leinster

Henshaw sent Larmour over out wide to make it 29-8, before Moore replied from a Ethan McIlroy kick to keep Ulster just about in the contest.

However, Van der Flier, set free by Osborne, slammed the door shut with 13 minutes remaining as another converted try saw Leinster move 36-15 ahead.

Molony scrambled over from five metres out to give victorious Leinster a sixth try, although a valiant Ulster had the last word through Lowry, darting over from Nathan Doak’s cross-field kick.

The teams

Leinster: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Jamie Osborne, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 James Ryan (c), 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Rónan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Sam Prendergast, 23 Ciarán Frawley

Ulster: 15 Stewart Moore, 14 Mike Lowry, 13 Will Addison, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 David McCann, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Cormac Izuchukwu, 4 Harry Sheridan, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring (c), 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Greg Jones, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Ethan McIlroy, 23 Jude Postlethwaite

Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
TMO: Brain MacNeice (Ireland)

READ MORE: Bulls made to work hard in quarter-final victory over Benetton