Leinster edges 14-try thriller
PRO14 REPORT: Leinster won a whirlwind encounter against Ulster to extend their unbeaten start to the season and Conference A hegemony at the RDS Arena.
Leo Cullen’s men ran in eight tries but conceded six in a chaotic 54-42 win on home soil, once again outlining their Championship credentials to move 13 points clear of the visitors at the top of the table.
Max Deegan, Robbie Henshaw, Fergus McFadden and a Scott Penny double opened up a healthy half-time lead for the defending champions, with Rob Kearney, Cian Kelleher and Deegan adding further scores after the interval to cap off a ruthless evening’s work.
And efforts from Angus Kernohan, Matt Faddes, Craig Gilroy, Johnny Stewart and two from Greg Jones proved nothing more than consolations for Dan McFarland’s side, who now find themselves further off the pace in Conference A standings.
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It was a rapid start from Leo Cullen’s men, moving the ball with consistent pace and opening the scoring on just two minutes through Deegan after a period of sustained pressure on the Ulster tryline.
The visitors rallied, however, crafting a promising spell themselves immediately after and restoring parity on just eight minutes as winger Kernohan dotted down in the corner.
But Ulster’s share of the spoils did not last long, going behind once again just five minutes later when flanker Penny forced his way over from close range.
And McFarland’s side’s misery intensified just moments after, when centre Faddes was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Tommy O’Brien and Penny dotted down once again.
The bonus-point try came just five minutes later, as centre Henshaw latched onto a deft kick out wide from the influential Harry Byrne to cross in the corner.
Ulster fought back again, with Faddes going from zero to hero five minutes before half-time after embarking on a lengthy solo run to cut the deficit.
But that didn’t last long, as Leinster regained their three-try advantage on the cusp of the interval when wing McFadden went over in the corner.
The hosts showed no sign of letting up as the second half got underway, notching their sixth try just four minutes after the break when Kearney steamrolled over and their seventh shortly after when Kelleher did the same in the opposite corner.
The try-scoring carnage continued heading into the game’s final quarter, as Gilroy capitalised on a wayward Penny pass to run in and score before Deegan got his second after going over after a scrum.
And despite Jones cutting the deficit with Ulster’s fourth and fifth tries, Stewart scoring a sixth and Josh Murphy being sent to the sin-bin, it did little to diminish Leinster’s dominance as the reigning champions sent out a further statement of intent to the rest of the competition.
Man of the match
For the standout player of the evening look no further than the talismanic Byrne, admirably filling the considerable boots of Johnny Sexton by slotting 14 points from the tee after converting all but one of his side’s tries.
The precocious 20-year-old was also a major player in the Leinster midfield, continually pulling the strings and memorably setting up Henshaw’s try in a mature and polished performance under the RDS lights.
Play of the day
It was the hosts’ bonus-point try that represented the most eye-catching move of the hectic encounter, as Henshaw got on the end of an intelligent kick from that man Byrne to cross in the corner.
And good work from Kelleher was what set it up, beating several defenders after jinking in from the wing to force the Ulster defence to narrow and free up acres of space out wide for the waiting Henshaw.
Tries: Deegan 2, Penny 2, Henshaw, McFadden, Kearney, Kelleher
Cons: Byrne 7
Tries: Kernohan, Faddes, Gilroy, Jones 2 , Stewart
Cons: Johnston 6
Yellow cards: Josh Murphy (Leinster, 79), Matt Faddes (Ulster, 18)
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Tommy O’Brien, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Scott Penny, 6 Will Connors, 5 Josh Murphy, 4 Scott Fardy (captain), 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Conor O’Brien.
Ulster: 15 Rob Lyttle, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Angus Curtis, 11 Angus Kernohan, 10 Bill Johnston, 9 David Shanahan, 8 Greg Jones, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Matthew Rea, 5 Alan O’Connor (captain), 4 David O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Adam McBurney, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Jack Regan, 20 Azur Allison, 21 Jonny Stewart, 22 Stewart Moore, 23 Ethan McIlroy.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy, Kieran Barry (both Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Report by @PRO14Official