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Monday 11 December 2017

Ulstermen spoil Jim's first start

SUPPORT: Out-half Jimmy Gopperth has the backing of Leinster boss Matt O'Connor.
SUPPORT: Out-half Jimmy Gopperth has the backing of Leinster boss Matt O'Connor.

Leinster coach Matt O'Connor was bullish about the debut of fly-half Jimmy Gopperth in their 21-19 defeat to Ulster at a packed Ravenhill last night.

"Jimmy is a very, very tidy footballer and he marshalled the troops brilliantly for us," said O'Connor.

"I've had the luxury of watching him play for the last three seasons in England. He managed the game very, very well in an inexperienced team."

If ever there was a time for the performance to come first and the result second, this was it. Leinster worked their way into a 13-0 lead and rebounded to take a 19-14 edge all the way to the 72nd minute when they were undone by an Ian Porter try and James McKinney conversion.

"By and large, it was a pretty intense hit out for both teams for the first game of the season. That aspect was very pleasing, a good place to learn valuable lessons," added O'Connor.

"We did a lot of really good things. We probably weren't accurate enough getting out of our end and that cost us at the end of the day. It was a good performance as a whole for a lot of the kids who hadn't played a lot for Leinster, especially in a dour game played with a pretty greasy ball."

Gopperth started well, dictating the flow of Leinster's attack, his crossfield ball almost creating an opening for wing Darragh Fanning.

The out-half quickly posted the first points of his Leinster career with three from concerted pressure and followed up with a second penalty in the 15th minute courtesy of an infringement by Ulster number eight Nick Williams.

It was all Leinster as they set about continuing to look for territory. Hooker Aaron Dundon connected with Tadhg Beirne at a lineout for the forwards to surge over with Dominic Ryan controlling the ball. Gopperth's conversion made it 13-0 in 19 minutes.

Ulster had to show real intent and there was no one more likely than Williams to carry the fight. He made an impact with ball-in-hand and centre Jared Payne, captain for the night, finished cleanly.

Former Ireland U20 fly-half McKinney added the conversion and he repeated the dose when Williams powered over from the base of a scrum in the 36th minute for a 14-13 lead at the interval.

Ireland U20 flanker Dan Leavy and 20-year-old tight-head Tadhg Furlong made their senior debuts and they were immediately part of a rearguard action as Ulster's Luke Marshall was stopped under the posts.

It was soon all about Leinster's fluency as Gopperth struck in the 43rd and the 57th minutes for a 19-14 gap as number eight Leo Auva'a and replacement scrum-half Luke McGrath made their presence felt.

Ireland lock Dan Tuohy almost wiped out the deficit on the back of good approach work only to over-commit in attack for replacement 10 Cathal Marsh to clear the danger.

The rash of replacements hindered the cohesion of both teams, Ulster looking to turn possession into points. They did so from substitute Porter's five-pointer with McKinney converting for the winning points.

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