Monday 10 December 2018

Ulster put end to Blues horror season

Leinster fail to score in dismal final 72 minutes

Leinster failed to make the PRO12 League semi-finals for the first time by falling to Ulster 26-10 last night.

The holders started as they finished in Marseille, like a train, Jimmy Gopperth's incision putting them on the front-foot.

From there, they had a stab at a 5-metre lineout before Iain Henderson was in from the side at a ruck.

When it didn't work out as planned, Gopperth was consoled by a penalty lead in the fifth minute.

There was control from the restart. Sean O'Brien turned a dirty ball into a gain and Ben Te'o's lovely inside line and fend on Roger Wilson was the source of his try-scoring burst from 30 metres, converted by Gopperth for 10-0 in the eighth minute.

This was rugby from a former time. They would not score again.

The first crack came when Gopperth's kick was sliced. It was compounded by Devin Toner's failure to move away at a ruck .

Ruan Pienaar was right and short from the penalty, but Ulster had position.

Then, Paddy Jackson moved menacingly into enemy territory.

Tommy Bowe and Louis Ludik carried the can and Iain Henderson hit a hot line onto Pienaar's pass for a smart try converted by the latter with O'Brien claiming interference from none other than referee John Lacey.

Franco van Der Merwe got up in front of Mike McCarthy at a lineout. Wilson and Van der Merwe drove hard. O'Brien was up offside. Pienaar levelled it up in the 17th minute.

Lacey showed all the signs of bowing to home crowd influence by binning Sean O'Brien for dropping Henderson when Zane Kirchner clearly assisted a return to earth.

Jamie Heaslip's rash decision at a ruck offered Pienaar a shot he could not make count in the teeming rain.

The South African's quick wits were beginning to oil Ulster and Henderson was everywhere as a nuisance factor.

Leinster did survive the 10-minute period without their openside.

When Gopperth was spotted offside, Pienaar didexact three points for Ulster to take the lead 13-10 for the first time in the 39th minute.

It was Gopperth again who gave Leinster lift off with another superb stepping break.

They couldn't make good on it and Henderson killed their momentum by sending Dominic Ryan back in the tackle for Darren Cave's grubber to squeeze the ball inside the 22.

A super-fuelled bust from Healy and a stiff arm by O'Brien on Wiehahn Herbst earned a penalty out of Jared Payne.

Gopperth went for the corner instead of the sticks. But, Van der Merwe outfoxed Toner in the air.

Toner was nailed by Wilson in the tackle. Louis Ludik was stopped dead by Luke Fitzgerald's step into contact.

The pace was constant; the composure was not. Healy's mesmeric footwork and O'Brien's follow up was ruined when Toner was ganged up on by Wilson and Herbst.

It took Jackson's improvisation to open the door for Craig Gilroy which Rob Kearney slammed shut.

Leinster were pushing the game in unhelpful conditions; Ulster content to put the ball to flight as the third quarter closed without a single score.

An uncharacteristic error from O'Brien handed the home side a scrum.

Poor handling by Pienaar and Ludik lulled Leinster into a false sense of security in defence for Ludik to spin away from Gordon D'Arcy. Fitzgerald was called into action again.

The offload came to Bowe and Kearney was there to haul him down. The Ireland full-back was carded and Pienaar made it 16-10 in the 65th minute.

Jack McGrath went off his feet. Pienaar went for and made it a nine-point lead from just inside halfway.

Pienaar's tumbling kick pinned Leinster well inside their 22.

They never left there as patience and perseverance ended with wing Gilroy slicing Leinster open for Pienaar to convert for 26-10 in the 74th minute.

Jack McGrath went off his feet. Pienaar made it a nine-point lead.

A final flurry forced a yellow card for prop Andy Warwick. But, Leinster could not break down an Ulster defence that would not stand down.

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