RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Leinster beat Ulster
RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Leinster are 22-20 winners at Ulster
Plenty of cards for new Ravenhill
A controversial first half saw English referee Luke Pearce go to his pocket three times in 11 minutes, sending off Ulster looshead prop Tom Court and sending Leinster full-back Rob Kearney and flanker Rhys Ruddock to the sin-bin. While a raucous Ravenhill crowd vehemently disagreed with the decision to red card Court on 17 minutes he became the latest player to fall foul to the clampdown on tackles that see the shoulders go above the horizontal. Inevitably, there will be cries from pundits about cards spoiling the game, which turned out to be a close affair as Leinster held on to win 22-20, but the laws are the laws and players should know that. Tip tackles should be red regardless of whether a player lands head first. If professional players don’t know that, it says a lot about their education and that needs addressed as much as considering clarifications to the laws. Rob Kearney was very lucky to avoid a red card for almost ripping off Paddy Jackson’s head as he scored Ulster’s only try. The determining factor appears to have been that because Jackson had grounded the ball a yellow was sufficient—it wasn’t. It should have been a penalty try and red card. Incidentally, Jackson missed the difficult conversion attempt from the touchline. As his otherwise sublime kicking showed as he racked up all 20 for Ulster, he probably wouldn’t have missed had it been in front of the posts.
Ulster defy odds again
On an emotional day in east Belfast, with the official opening of the ‘new’ Ravenhill, remembering 90 years of rugby at the iconic stadium and final appearances in Belfast for Ulster captain Johann Muller before his retirement and return to South Africa, not to mention Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll’s impending retirement, Ulster survived 63 minutes with 14 men despite their notable lengthy injury list and Andrew Warwick starting just his second match at tighthead prop against the best loosehead in the northern hemisphere in Cian Healy. It could be argued that they’ll be used to it after Jared Payne’s red card in the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat by two points to Saracens, but their comeback, inspired by the power and pace of replacement centre Darren Cave, and Jackson’s controlling of the game from outside-half proved to be enough to get them the one point they needed to guarantee a top four finish in the RaboDirect Pro12 at the expense of Ospreys. As it stands, Mark Anscombe’s side will face a rematch against their oldest rivals in the semi-final at the RDS with no away side having won a Pro12 semi-final.
Leinster secure home advantage
It may not have been the most assured of performances, but Leinster kept their Pro12 title defence on course. Already the bookmakers’ favourites to win the final on 31 May, a win at home against Edinburgh in their final round match against Edinburgh will secure top spot, giving Matt O’Connor a home semi-final, and the opportunity to propose the venue for the final. The result sees Leinster return to the top of the Pro12 after a bonus-point win for Glasgow Warriors in Treviso briefly had the Scottish side top. The Dublin-based side survived a period down to 13 men following the pair of yellow cards issued in the first half and, on another day, would have won comfortably after Shane Jennings finished off yet another piece of magic from O’Driscoll. He may be ready to retire, but he certainly doesn’t look like a player who should be anytime soon. Ian Madigan’s continued wayward kicking this season kept Ulster in the match in the second half allowing Jackson to give a lesson in how it’s done. More importantly it gives O’Connor a dilemma at outside-half for the final match and play-offs: Madigan or Gopperth? How Leinster would love to have Jonathan Sexton!