Leinster edge Ulster in Dublin thriller
CHAMPIONS CUP REPORT: Holders Leinster secured a Champions Cup semifinal spot with a tense 21-18 victory over Ulster as the visitors’ Jacob Stockdale fumbled a match-winning opportunity on Saturday.
At a raucous Aviva Stadium, it was Ulster who sent their supporters into bedlam after captain Rory Best charged down a Garry Ringrose kick, with Kieran Treadwell picking up the loose ball and crossing over. John Cooney, with his first kick at the ground, converted the score.
However, it did not take long for Leinster to respond with Ross Byrne, starting at flyhalf for the third consecutive game in the competition, darting over in the corner after identifying a numbers advantage on the blindside. Byrne was unable to convert his own score from the touchline.
Byrne missed a chance to redeem himself moments later after his penalty kick drifted wide and the error was compounded when Cooney extended Ulster’s lead with a successful penalty kick of his own.
The Leinster halfback did slot two penalties in succession, though, to give his side the lead before Cooney responded with three points off the tee himself to give Ulster the lead going into half-time
The tremendous intensity continued as the second half began with Ulster appeared the more threatening and had an opportunity to extend their lead through the competition’s joint-top try-scorer Stockdale.
The Ireland wing evaded a number of defenders but knocked the ball on as he attempted to dot the ball down over the tryline, with the TMO confirming the try should not stand.
The momentum then shifted into Leinster’s favour and with the visitors beginning to tire, No.8 Jack Conan exploded through the Ulster defence and offloaded to wing Adam Byrne who dived over for the host’s second try. Ross Byrne converted the score.
Ulster, who lost their only previous European match against Leinster in the 2012 final, did not back down as replacement Luke Marshall capped off some tremendous work by his pack to power over. Cooney missed his conversion which meant the scores were level at 18-18.
But the final blow was dealt by Ross Byrne, who despite struggling with cramp, slotted over the winning penalty to send Leinster into the semifinals for the 11th time.
Man of the match: No.8 Jack Conan was immense with ball in hand for Leinster and he did a lot of hard work around the breakdowns. He also set up Adam Byrne’s crucial try with a powerful run.
Tries: R Byrne, A Byrne
Con: R Byrne
Pens: R Byrne 3
Tries: Treadwell, Marshall
Pens: Cooney 2
LIVE: Leinster v Ulster
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Rory O’Loughlin, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Seán O’Brien, 6 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 5 James Ryan, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Rob Kearney.
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Nick Timoney, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Angus Kernohan.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Pierre Brousset (France), Vincent Blasco Baqué (France)
TBC: Denis Grenouillet (France)
AFP & @ChampionsCup