Leinster recorded a vital derby victory against old rivals Ulster at the RDS on Saturday night. The win, which leaves Leinster in 2nd place in the league table heading into 2014, also ended a run of 2 losses on the bounce. A try from Jordi Murphy was the main difference between the 2 sides. Murphy had a fantastic outing and, with Jamie Heaslip’s widely covered trip to France all over the newspapers, his timing to put in such a showing couldn’t have been better. In truth, it was a night for the forwards and with the Leinster pack on top, it meant that the victory was far more comfortable than any fan could have envisaged before the game.
It wasn’t a good start for the home side though. From the kick off, Ulster out half Paddy Jackson sent the ball on an unusually low trajectory which, given the weather conditions, was simply too difficult for Leo Cullen to gather and knocked the ball on as a result. The away side regained possession and were awarded a penalty by referee John Lacey when Murphy was adjudged to have handled the ball in the ruck. Jackson, making light of the difficult conditions, knocked over the penalty from 40m out. 3-0 Ulster after 2 mins.
The home side responded immediately and, much like Ulster, the key was applying pressure from the kick off. Jimmy Gopperth hit the ball deep and, as a result of a good chase from Leinster, Ulster scrum half Paul Marshall was forced into an awkward box kick which failed to find touch. Jordi Murphy and Noel Reid carried the ball aggressively and with pace to regain Leinster territory. After a couple of phases Ulster number 8 Roger Wilson was penalised for not rolling back onto his own side of the ruck. Gopperth made the most of the opportunity from 30m out to tie up the match. 3-3 after 4 mins.
Leinster had a number of opportunities to add to their tally throughout the next 30 mins. Gopperth missed 2 very kickable penalties and, after good line breaks from Reid and Luke Fitzgerald, Leinster failed to show the composure or accuracy required to get over the try line. To the visiting team’s credit, they scrambled back in defence superbly and flooded the breakdown when they were defending their line. As a result it was Ulster who regained the lead after Leinster prop Mike Ross clearly entered the ruck from the side in an effort to clear out Second Row Dan Tuohy. Lacey had no option but to give the penalty. Jackson took the most of the opportunity from 45m out and, rather incredibly considering how the first half had gone, Ulster hit the front. 6-3 Ulster after 33 mins.
It looked like Leinster would rue all those missed chances to add to their score and leave the pitch in arrears at half time. The half did have one wild turn to take as Ulster mistakes turned out to be very costly. Firstly, inside centre Luke Marshall, who hadn’t seen much possession at all in the first half, over cooked his attempted kick for the side-line with the ball landing out on the full and turning over possession. Leinster secured the lineout and, following a bullocking Sean O’Brien carry, open side flanker Sean Doyle was yellow carded for not rolling away from the ruck. The incident in isolation was not a yellow card offence but Ulster skipper Robbie Diack had been warned by Lacey about the price of committing multiple offences.
Leinster kicked the ball up the line in an effort to go for a catch and drive from the lineout. The resultant set piece was an absolute mess but Luke Fitzgerald made something from nothing when he gathered up the breaking ball at speed. He was tackled by 2 Ulster players but, managing to stay on his feet and free his hands, he offloaded the ball to the supporting Jordi Murphy. Ricky Andrew and Andre Trimble were unable to stop Murphy as he crashed over the line. Lacey awarded the try via the TMO and Gopperth, who’d struggled from the tee, nailed the touchline conversion to give Leinster the lead for the first time. 10-6 Leinster after 35 mins.
At the start of the second half, it was the home side who came out with more urgency and looked the more determined to take the win. Amongst the home support there was a feeling that Lacey hadn’t been watching the Ulster midfield encroaching the offside line. Those fans will have been no doubt pleased and relieved that this was something Lacey had clearly reassessed at half time. From a collapsed maul after a lineout Leinster tried to spin the ball out to their backs just outside the Ulster ’22. Marshall and Darren Cave, in an effort to cut down the space came up to early and were penalised by Lacey. Gopperth made no mistake from straight in front of the posts. 13-6 Leinster after 49 mins.
Ulster realised that the game was starting to slip away from them and decided to bring on 2 very important players in Jared Payne and Ruan Pienaar. Payne’s impact was immediate as he ran back a loose kick from Dave Kearney and gained Ulster territory but they couldn’t take any advantage of it. Leinster eventually managed to get the ball down field and Murphy once again carrying very strongly allowed Leinster to get on the front foot. The home side tried to shoot out of defence to stem the momentum but Lacey was now watching for the offside and duly penalised Doyle for said offence. Gopperth, from 30m out, took his chance and pushed the home side 10pts clear. 16-6 Leinster after 57 mins.
Leinster were gifted an opportunity from a rather unexpected source a few minute later. Payne, who is one of the most skilful players in the league, knocked on a simple catch, under no pressure, deep in his own 22’. Perhaps he was thinking about his next move but the mistake gave Leinster the scrum and Martin Moore earned the home side another penalty by forcing substitute prop Tom Court to lose his bind. Lacey, once again left with little option but to award the penalty which Gopperth converted to extend the home sides lead. 19-6 Leinster after 62 mins.
In spite of Ulster’s best effort towards the end, that was how it was to finish. A big result for Matt O’Connor’s side and he’ll no doubt have been very pleased to have not only gotten the win but have given some game time to younger squad members and made sure that Ulster got no points at all from their trip south. Next up is a trip to the Sportsground to face Connacht which is always fun.
Cian is kind enough to let us repost his fine work. Check out The Terrace View Blog for more.