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Leaders Leinster hold off fierce Cardiff

SATURDAY WRAP: United Rugby Championship leaders Leinster overcame fierce Cardiff resistance to claim a 33-20 bonus-point victory at the Arms Park.

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Leinster, unbeaten in the competition against Welsh opposition since Cardiff beat them more than two years ago, conceded 15 unanswered points and trailed just after half-time.

But they ultimately overpowered their hosts to post a ninth win of the URC campaign as tries from wing Rob Russell, Nol 8 Max Deegan, hooker John McKee and replacement prop Michael Milne’s double saw them home, while flyhalf Ross Byrne kicked four conversions.

Cardiff, inspired by two tries from Wales international prop Rhys Carre and an Aled Summerhill touchdown, pushed their opponents hard, yet their only other points came via a Tinus de Beer conversion and penalty.

Leinster blasted out of the blocks and rocked Cardiff with two tries inside the first 10 minutes.

Prop Tom Clarkson proved key in the opener, breaking clear before finding Russell with a scoring pass, then Deegan crashed over from close range and one Byrne conversion made it 12-0.

Cardiff were rocked back on their heels, but they put some promising passages of play together either side of a De Beer penalty, with Summerhill and Owen Lane offering attacking threats.

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Cardiff continued to make headway and they were rewarded four minutes before half-time through a line-out move straight off the training ground that worked to perfection.

Carre was the beneficiary, finishing powerfully after scrumhalf Ellis Bevan put him in space from accurate set-piece possession, then Carre struck again on the stroke of half-time after De Beer’s conversion cut Cardiff’s deficit to two points.

Flank Thomas Young almost breached Leinster’s cover before visiting fullback Jordan Larmour was yellow-carded for a technical infringement and brute strength was again to the fore as Carre smashed through two Leinster defenders for his second try that secured a 15-12 interval advantage.

Leinster thought they had regained the lead when Clarkson crossed from close range, but he was held up over the line by Young.

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Cardiff could only hold out for another five minutes, though, as relentless pressure exerted through the Leinster forwards ended with Milne touching down and Byrne converting.

Milne’s second try on the hour mark, again converted by Byrne, put daylight between the teams, although Cardiff summoned a Summerhill consolation six minutes from time after McKee had gone over.

Man of the Match: Replacement Leinster prop Michael Milne had a night to savour in Cardiff, scoring two tries during 11 second-half minutes to help turn the tide in his team’s favour. Cardiff had scored 15 unanswered points to wipe out a 12-0 deficit, but Milne’s close-range double put Leinster on their way to a bonus-point victory that retained their position as clear United Rugby Championship leaders.

*Mike Lowry and David McCann both scored two tries apiece to help Ulster claim a 49-26 bonus-point win over Dragons at Kingspan Stadium.

Ulster made light of former head coach Dan McFarland’s sudden departure from Ravenhill as they ran in seven tries to register a vital and convincing victory.

Will Addison, Harry Sheridan and Nick Timoney also crossed for Ulster, who saw long-serving boss McFarland leave his post last month after three consecutive defeats.

John Cooney converted all seven touchdowns for the hosts while the battling Dragons managed a bonus point of their own after being awarded a late penalty try to go with scores from James Benjamin, Matthew Screech and Brodie Coghlan.

The hosts took the lead after just four minutes, Addison opening the scoring after a grubber from Billy Burns, with Cooney converting well.

The Dragons managed to draw level when Benjamin was pushed over after 11 minutes from a driving maul with Will Reed converting.

But Ulster were back in front six minutes later with their second try, Lowry running in unopposed after Addison and McCann had linked up out on the flank off turnover ball.

Cooney slotted his third conversion on the half hour after Sheridan had battered over from close range to put the Irish province 21-7 ahead.

The bonus-point try came when Lowry scored his second of the match after 32 minutes, yet again Cooney converting and the first half came to a close with Ulster ahead 28-7 and looking in complete charge.

The visitors responded with the first score of the second half, when lock Screech drove through from close range in the 51st minute, although Reed’s conversion hit the post and stayed out.

Ulster hit back five minutes later with the fifth try of the night when McCann touched down with Cooney slotting another excellent touchline conversion.

Once again, the Dragons refused to buckle and came back again with their third try when Coghlan drove over, and this time Reed converted.

Ulster were back on the scoresheet with nine minute remaining Timoney scored in the corner, Cooney again superb with the extras, before McCann ran in for his second touchdown with five minutes to go.

The game ended with a penalty try for the Dragons and a try bonus which also resulted in Timoney being yellow carded.

Man of the Match: Jude Postlethwaite had a massively influential game at inside centre and made a significant difference for Ulster in the opening half as they laid the foundations for this vital victory. His powerful running and distribution was at another level in the seven-try win.

Saturday’s scores and scorers:

Cardiff 20-33 Leinster

For Cardiff:
Tries: Carre (2), Summerhill
Cons: De Beer
Pens: De Beer

For Leinster:
Tries: Russel, Deegan, Milne 2, McKee
Cons: R Byrne 4

Teams:

Cardiff: 15 Jacob Beetham, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Max Clark, 12 Ben Thomas, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Ellis Bevan, 8 Lopeti Timani, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 5 Josh Turnbull (captain), 4 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 3 Will Davies-King, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Rhys Carré.
Replacements: 16 Dafydd Hughes, 17 Rhys Barratt, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Ben Donnell, 20 Alun Lawrence, 21 Lucas de la Rua, 22 Matthew Aubrey, 23 Willis Halaholo.

Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Liam Turner, 13 Jamie Osborne, 12 Harry Byrne, 11 Rob Russell, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Scott Penny (captain), 6 Will Connors, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Thomas Clarkson, 2 Lee Barron, 1 Jack Boyle.
Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Brian Deeny, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Ben Murphy, 22 Sam Prendergast, 23 Ben Brownlee.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse (Wales) and Ben Breakspear (Wales)
TMO: Dave Sutherland (Scotland)

Ulster 49-26 Dragons

For Ulster:
Tries: Addison, Lowry 2, Sheridan 2, Timoney, McCann
Cons: Cooney 7

For Dragons:
Tries: Benjamin, Screech, Coghlan, Penalty
Cons: Reed 2

Teams:

Ulster: 15 Will Addison, 14 Ethan McIlroy, 13 James Hume (captain), 12 Jude Postlethwaite, 11 Mike Lowry, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Marcus Rea, 6 David McCann, 5 Harry Sheridan, 4 Cormac Izuchukwu, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Tom Stewart, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Sean Reffell, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Jacob Stockdale.

Dragons: 15 Ewan Rosser, 14 Joe Westwood, 13 Steff Hughes (captain), 12 Aneurin Owen, 11 Corey Baldwin, 10 Will Reed, 9 Dane Blacker, 8 Taine Basham, 7 Harry Taylor, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Sean Lonsdale, 3 Chris Coleman, 2 James Benjamin, 1 Rodrigo Martinez.
Replacements: 16 Brodie Coghlan, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Luke Yendle, 19 Barny Langton-Cryer, 20 George Nott, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Harri Ackerman, 23 Huw Anderson.

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Andrew Fogarty (Ireland)
TMO: Matteo Liperini (Italy)

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