RaboDirect Pro12: Leinster edge past Ulster to reach final
RaboDirect Pro12: Leinster are 13-9 winners against Ulster to reach final
Reigning RaboDirect Pro12 champions Leinster produced an inspired second-half performance to defeat interprovincial rivals Ulster 13-9 set up a grand final against Glasgow Warriors.
Ulster led 6-0 at the break through two Paddy Jackson penalties, but Leinster’s defence held firm in the second half to defend their lead after Jimmy Gopperth slotted two penalties and replacement Ian Madigan scored the only try of the game with seven minutes remaining to see them into a fifth successive final.
As with the first semi-final between Glasgow Warriors and Munster on Friday night, the first half was a frenetic affair, with defences on top and big hits coming in from both teams.
Ulster Scrum-half Ruan Pienaar—back in the side after a spell injured—missed an early chance to get points on the board, before handing over kicking duties to half-back partner Paddy Jackson, who made no mistake three minutes later.
Both side were unable to get their dangerous backlines functioning as errors creeped into the game, and Ulster could only add a penalty with the last kick of the first half, four minutes after Leinster centre Gordon D’Arcy was yellow carded for dropping his shoulder into Tommy Bowe as the winger attempted to get Ulster moving with a quick restart from the 22.
When Eoin Reddan was found offside inside his 22, referee Leighton Hodges awarded a penalty and Jackson slotted an easy kick to double Ulster’s lead.
The first quarter of the second half was a one to forget for the hosts as Brian O’Driscoll went off after his head collided with Iain Henderson’s hip.
Three minutes later, Jackson added a third penalty after D’Arcy was also penalised for offside.
Leinster’s attacks began to find holes in the Ulster defence with lock Devin Toner bursting through unexpectedly up to the Ulster 22, but after going through several phases, the hosts turned over.
Madigan, on for the groggy O’Driscoll, also found his way through missed tackles, but it came to nothing before Pienaar was almost gifted a glorious chance to stretch the lead as he charged down a clearance kick deep in Leinster’s half, only for the bounce in-goal to go away from him and Leinster were able to kill the ball.
Jimmy Gopperth got Leinster on the scoreboard after 58 minutes and five minutes later the New Zealander added a second to set up a nervous final 17 minutes.
And it was Madigan—playing out of position—who made the difference as he found his way through Jared Payne and Craig Gilroy to go over with seven minutes remaining to give Leinster the lead for the first time. Gopperth adding the conversion to leave Ulster needing to score a try or two kicks at goal to reach the final.
When Ulster were awarded a penalty, with minutes remaining, there was a big call to make by Best—captain in Muller’s absence.
Pienaar tested the wind for a kick from distance and hope of recovering the ball for a last-ditch effort, but handed the ball to replacement outside-half James McKinney to kick to the corner.
But their hopes of finding a way through were halted as Leinster’s defence held firm metres from their own line before stealing the ball and being able to move it up towards the half-way line, ending Ulster’s hopes of silverware again.
Another famous victory for Leinster sets up the perfect opportunity to say goodbye to O’Driscoll and club captain Leo Cullen in the final on 31 May, either at the RDS, or the Aviva Stadium, should demand exceed the capacity of Leinster’s home ground.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden (Zane Kirchner, 67), Brian O’Driscoll (Ian Madigan, 50), Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney (Luke McGrath, 69); Jimmy Gopperth, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy (Jack McGrath, 65), Sean Cronin (Aaron Dundon, 79), Martin Moore (Mike Ross, 56), Devin Toner, Quinn Roux (Leo Cullen, 53), Rhys Ruddock (Sean O’Brien, 56), Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (captain).
Cons: Gopperth (1/1)
Pens: Gopperth (2/2)
Yellow Card: Gordon D’Arcy (36)
Ulster: Craig Gilroy; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Darren Cave (Luke Marshall, 56), Andrew Trimble; Paddy Jackson (James McKinney, 56), Ruan Pienaar; Callum Black, Rory Best, Ricky Lutton (Andrew Warwick, 61), Johann Muller (captain) (Dan Tuohy, 59), Iain Henderson, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry (Sean Doyle, Roger Wilson.
Replacements not used: Rob Herring, Adam Macklin; Paul Marshall.
Pens: Pienaar (0/1), Jackson (3/3)
Referee: Leighton Hughes (WRU)
Man of the Match: Ian Madigan (Leinster)