Leinster survive late Ulster rally
Leinster 8 Ulster 3: Van der Flier drives Blues up to second
Leinster closed up to within one point of leaders Connacht in the PRO12 with a heart-warming Inter-provincial rendition on a cold night at The RDS.
There was so much more than the usual bragging rights on the line for two provinces in search of redemption from dark days in Europe.
The first scrum was a demolition job by Leinster with eight men putting their weight through it.
It handed the home side territory they would not give up until Wiehahn Herbst was too slow to retreat from a ruck for which Jonathan Sexton exacted a toll of three points in the fifth minute.
The Leinster out-half fumbled a loose pass for the concession of territory. It turned into a simple penalty for offside. Paddy Jackson missed it.
It wasn't long before Jackson was back in the same situation, just wider out, to square it when Jack McGrath wasn't quick enough to release in the tackle.
The ingenuity of Sexton from a cross-field kick put the lively Luke Fitzgerald in business, his switch play taking Isa Nacewa too close to the touchline.
Ulster looked smooth on the ball, Jackson's slide rule grubber forcing a 5-metre lineout. Devin Toner took care of that one.
Josh van der Flier was driving through rucks and prop McGrath was putting in hefty hits in a roaming commission, Ruan Pienaar eventually knocking-on.
Leinster were adamant in their quest to outflank Ulster and Fitzgerald's tickler convinced Andrew Trimble to carry the ball to the corner flag.
The lineout was won and driven. Tadhg Furlong barrelled on. Van der Flier twisted closer.
The ball was whipped right for Nacewa's too-low pass to slip away from Zane Kirchner.
All the while, Ulster were calm under the pressure.
Sexton went down injured just as Eoin Reddan replaced Luke McGrath.
The scrum churned out another penalty. Sexton went for the corner rather than the sticks. The lineout misfired.
They had to start again. Ben Te'o found a half-gap. Sexton's fingertips opened the way. Reddan almost escaped down the left.
There was the consolation of a penalty. The lineout connected this time. Hooker Sean Cronin was the man in the van for the try to put Leinster ahead 8-3 at the break.
Leinster found their groove immediately, Te'o coming off his right foot, Rhys Ruddock powering out of a tackle to come within a foot.
Sexton's superb flat ball was spilled by Te'o with the line at his mercy.
Prop Furlong's charge and offload triggered another promising move denied by desperate Ulster bodies.
When it mattered most, the Ulster scum didn't budge, not once, but twice from five metres out.
Then, they made their way out of trouble once again through Nelson's nice ball on the floor. They had to do more than hold the line.
They did so when Trimble flashed beyond Te'o and Craig Gilroy threatened on an inside ball.
Replacement Marty Moore squeezed a penalty out of Robbie Diack in the shadow of his posts as the third quarter came to a close.
Then, Jackson put Gilroy through a hole. Sexton was there to wrap him up for a maul turnover.
The handling of Rory Best and Pienaar was cute enough for front-foot ball eventually coughed up cheaply by Gilroy's chip into the grateful hands of Sexton.
Van der Flier was ankle accurate in his take down and James Tracy hammered out a bone-cruncher.
Ulster were not going away. Nick Williams swatted away Ruddock.
The increasing tackle impact of Van der Flier was remarkable, even decisive.