Leinster beat Ulster to book spot in Pro14 Final
PRO14 SATURDAY WRAP: Holders Leinster booked their place in the Pro14 Final by securing a 38-19 bonus-point victory over their only challengers Ulster to ensure they now cannot be caught at the top of Conference A.
Meanwhile, the Dragons secured their first win of 2021 with a hard-fought 31-20 victory over the Ospreys in Bridgend.
In Saturday’s early match, Glasgow Warriors beat Zebre 31-20.
Ulster 19-38 Leinster
In a game packed with incident, Leinster came from 12-3 behind and having two overlapping yellow cards by scoring tries from Michael Bent, Josh van der Flier and Ed Byrne to give them a 24-12 half-time lead.
The bonus point came in the second half from a Rhys Ruddock try before Dan Sheehan crossed for Leinster’s fifth and final try in the last minute.
Ross Byrne kicked all five conversions and added a penalty.
Ulster had replacement prop Andy Warwick red-carded and Stuart McCloskey shown yellow while Leinster had Devin Toner and Jimmy O’Brien sin-binned in the first half.
Leinster’s Ruddock was also sin-binned late in the second half as was Ulster’s Cormac Izuchukwu on a busy night for referee Frank Murphy.
Ulster scored first-half tries through Marcell Coetzee and Robert Baloucoune with Nick Timoney crossing late on.
Ross Byrne got Leinster off the mark with a fourth-minute penalty after the returning Coetzee was penalised at the breakdown.
Shortly afterwards, lock Toner was yellow carded by referee Murphy for a high hit on Michael Lowry and Ulster struck shortly afterwards when, after two penalties to the corner, Coetzee smashed his way over near the posts.
John Cooney converted to put Ulster 7-3 up and with Toner off the field, Ulster made the advantage pay with a marvellous move ending up with Baloucoune driving over in the corner.
Though Cooney hit the post with the conversion attempt, Ulster were now 12-3 in the lead, though Leinster were reduced to 13 men as centre O’Brien was also yellow carded for head contact with Ian Madigan.
With Toner back on the field, Leinster’s pack upped their game and when Ulster began to concede penalties in their 22, the visitors tapped two penalties with Bent crashing over beside the posts which allowed Ross Byrne convert to make it 12-10.
The reigning Pro14 champions – now back to 15 again – kept up the pressure and after Luke McGrath was brought down short of the line by Cooney, McCloskey was sin-binned and, once again, Leinster tapped the penalty allowing Van der Flier to wriggle through.
Leinster now had the lead and Ross Byrne‘s conversion made it 17-12.
Then Ulster were reduced to 13 as Warwick was shown red after his elbow made contact with Ed Byrne and not long afterwards the home team lost the talismanic Coetzee to injury.
With McCloskey still seeing time out on his yellow card, Leinster scored their third try when Ed Byrne barrelled over from close range, Ross Byrne converting again to stretch their led to 24-12 which is how the half ended.
Baloucoune then weaved through for what looked like a wonder score only for it to be ruled out due to an apparent block by McCloskey on Ruddock.
A series of penalties against Ulster around the hour mark saw the visitors launch several tap-and-go penalties and despite some resolute Ulster defence, Ruddock eventually barged through under the posts for the key bonus point.
Ross Byrne’s conversion took Leinster to 31-12 ahead.
After camping on the Leinster line – which saw Ruddock sin-binned – Timoney eventually got over after 72 minutes which Lowry converted.
The gamed ended when Sheehan crossed after Izuchuckwu’s sin-binning.
Tries: Coetzee, Baloucoune, Timoney
Cons: Cooney, Lowry
Tries: Bent, Van der Flier, E Byrne, Ruddock, Sheehan
Cons: R Byrne 5
Pen: R Byrne
Red card: Andy Warwick (Ulster, 30(
Yellow cards: Devon Toner (Leinster, 6); Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster, 15); Stuart McCloskey (Ulster, 27); Rhys Ruddock (Leinster, 70); Cormac Izuchukwu (Ulster, 77)
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy (captain), 6 Nick Timoney, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 John Andrew, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Cormac Izuchukwu, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Stewart Moore, 23 Rob Lyttle.
Leinster: 15 Max O’Reilly, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Jimmy O’Brien, 12 Rory O’Loughlin, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath (captain), 8 Scott Penny, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Michael Bent, 2 James Tracy, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Thomas Clarkson, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Josh Murphy, 21 Rowan Osborne, 22 Jamie Osborne, 23 Jack Dunne.
Referee: Frank Murphy
Assistant Referees: Seán Gallagher, Robert O’Sullivan
TMO: Olly Hodges
Ospreys 20-31 Dragons
Tries from Jonah Holmes (2), Ashton Hewitt (2) and Aaron Wainwright along with six points from the boot of Sam Davies clinched a bonus-point victory for the visitors.
A brace of tries from Kieron Williams and 10 points from Stephen Myler was all the Ospreys could muster.
The Ospreys made a strong start as they applied a large amount of pressure in the Dragons 22 which forced their hosts into conceding numerous penalties.
Such a one-sided penalty count resulted in referee Craig Davies sending second-row Joe Davies to the sin bin for an early push in the line-out.
It was the visitors, against the run of play, who scored the game’s first try. The ball was spun wide to Hewitt from a strong scrum, with a powerful surge from Wainwright breaching the Ospreys defence to allow the Wales international to score, which Davies converted.
After a Myler penalty went over, the Ospreys continued to lay siege to the Dragons tryline and finally got their just rewards when Williams hit a terrific line to power over the whitewash from short range with some assistance from Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler.
Myler converted and the Ospreys turned around with a slender 10-7 lead at the interval.
The Dragons started the second half strongly with a powerful break from Wainwright releasing scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou, who drew his man to put Holmes over for their second try.
But the Ospreys hit back immediately. An incisive break from Dan Evans put the hosts on the front foot before the fullback released Reuben Morgan-Williams, who put inside centre Williams over for his brace of tries.
The Ospreys held a five-point lead but the Dragons refused to give in as they started to build pressure in the home side’s 22.
A powerful driving line-out forced second-row Rhys Davies to illegally sack the line-out, leaving the referee with no choice but to award a yellow card.
The Dragons made the most of their numerical advantage with Hewitt sneaking in at the far left-hand corner.
Myler nudged the Ospreys back ahead with a regulation penalty but Dragons fullback Josh Lewis found a weak spot in their defence as he ghosted through a huge hole.
The former Bath man drew his man before putting Holmes over for his second score.
The Dragons sealed an unlikely win with Hewitt slicing through the Ospreys defence after a superb no-look pass from Rhodri Williams to run in unopposed from 40 metres out with Davies converting.
Tries: K Williams 2
Cons: Myler 2
Pens: Myler 2
Tries: Wainwright, Holmes 2, Hewitt 2
Cons: S Davies 3
Yellow cards: Joe Davies (Dragons, 9); Rhys Davies (Ospreys, 55)
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Rhys Webb (captain), 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 Will Griffiths, 5 Rhys Davies, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Garyn Phillips, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Gareth Evans, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Owen Watkin, 23 Dewi Cross.
Dragons: 15 Josh Lewis, 14 Jonah Holmes, 13 Aneurin Owen, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Harrison Keddie (captain), 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Joe Maksymiw, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Ellis Shipp, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Josh Reynolds, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Ben Carter, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Jack Dixon, 23 Jordan Williams.
Referee: Craig Evans
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens, Dan Jones
TMO: Rhys Thomas