Leinster end Ulster's unbeaten Pro14 run
PRO14 REPORT: Triple-defending champions Leinster bounced back from their first defeat in 27 Championship games with a 24-12 win over Ulster.
The win ended their Irish rivals Ulster’s unbeaten start to the Pro14 season.
Leinster – who were overturned 35-24 by Connacht in Round 10 – went behind thanks to John Cooney’s boot, and although Dave Kearney crossed for the first half’s only try Ulster went into the break in front thanks to two further Cooney kicks.
But Leinster were the dominant force after the interval with Sean Cronin and Robbie Henshaw quickly going over to put Leo Cullen’s men in control, and although Cooney added to his tally, James Tracy crashed over for the hosts late on.
Victory for Leinster sees them move to within five points of Ulster at the top of Conference A having played two games fewer, while the latter now have ten wins and one defeat to their name this season.
It was a fast and furious start with Leinster demonstrating an improved level of aggression at the breakdown compared to their previous outing, but both teams struggled to make any real in-roads into opposition territory during the game’s opening stages.
Ulster were rewarded for a diligent opening 15 minutes with scrum-half Cooney kicking them in front, and Leinster talisman Johnny Sexton failed to level terms five minutes later with his first attempt from the tee.
A sight of goal seemed to somewhat thrust the hosts into their rhythm however, and Sexton opted to kick into the corner when Marcell Coetzee was penalised for a high tackle, after Leinster had driven into the away 22.
And the subsequent driving maul led to the evening’s first try, Leinster’s forwards powering towards the line before Jamison Gibson-Park found Kearney in the corner to finish expertly.
Having lost their lead, Ulster were reduced to 14 men for the last ten minutes of the first half with Coetzee being sent to the sin-bin, but Cooney was next to strike with his second penalty putting Dan McFarland’s men back in front.
Andrew Porter conceded another expensive penalty on the stroke of half-time, allowing Cooney to stretch Ulster’s advantage to 9-5 before referee Andrew Brace called time on the first 40 minutes.
But Leinster burst out of the blocks in the second period, Cronin breaching the resistance of the Ulster backline within three-and-a-half minutes of the restart, and Sexton converting to give the Dubliners a three-point lead.
The home side were now enjoying control of possession, and Jordan Larmour was held up on the try-line before Henshaw crashed over in the corner in the 53rd minute to give the champions a bit of breathing space.
Cooney reduced the deficit to 17-12 with his fourth kick out on the right little over ten minutes before time, but replacement hooker Tracy bulldozed over late on to secure the bonus point and put the result beyond doubt.
Tries: Kearny, Cronon, Henshaw, Tracy
Cons: Sexton, Byrne
Pens: Cooney 4
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Ross Byrne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 James Ryan, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Jimmy O’Brien.
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Matt Faddes, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Greg Jones, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Ben Moxham.
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Eoghan Cross (both IRFU)
TMO: Joy Neville (IRFU)