Leinster put down big marker
MATCH REPORT: A dominant first half helped Leinster triumph 20-13 and go three wins from three in a top-of-the-table Irish derby clash with Ulster at a rain-swept Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.
Tries from Ryan Baird and Dan Sheehan, along with two conversions and two penalties from Ross Byrne, brought Leinster the four points on the day when Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton made his first appearance of the season off the bench.
After trailing 3-17 at the break, Ulster battled back through a John Andrew try which was supplemented by two penalties and a conversion from John Cooney to claim the losing bonus point.
Leinster’s Baird scored the game’s first points after seven minutes when the visitors moved the ball at pace down the left flank, with quick hands from Garry Ringrose and Dave Kearney creating the space for Baird to make the corner.
Byrne added a great conversion to make it 7-0 to the visitors.
Two minutes after the quarter-of-an-hour mark, Cooney landed a long-range penalty to narrow Leinster’s lead.
On 20 minutes, Leinster had their second try when Sheehan smashed his way over from a lineout maul which Byrne again converted.
The remainder of the half was dominated by a torrential downpour and the only score came from the boot of Byrne after Leinster opted for the posts with a 37th-minute penalty.
The opening 40 minutes ended with Leinster leading 17-3
Jacob Stockdale failed to return for the new half after picking up a worrying-looking ankle problem, having endured a similar issue last season.
Leinster’s lead became 20-3 five minutes after the restart, with Byrne’s second penalty.
With Jimmy O’Brien sin-binned in the 61st minute, Ulster put the penalty to the corner and, from the maul, replacement hooker Andrew touched down. Cooney’s conversion cut Leinster’s lead to 10 points.
Ulster worked Aaron Sexton over the line in the 68th minute only for Charlie Ngatai to dislodge the ball in the act of scoring and the try was ruled out.
Cooney kicked a 71st-minute penalty to make it 20-13 to Leinster but neither side was able to score again.
Player of the Match
Having crossed for four tries against Benetton in Round 2, Sheehan was in the thick of the action again.
He crossed for his fifth touchdown of the season and took home the individual honour.
Play of the match
Leinster’s first try was all about pace of the ball as Baird was put into space by some slick handling from Ringrose and Kearney.
The flank took the ball at full pelt and dived over in the corner as Billy Burns and Cooney could not stop him.
Pens: Cooney 2
Tries: Baird, Sheehan
Cons: Byrne 2
Pens: Byrne 2
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Aaron Sexton, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Marcus Rea, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andy Warwick.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Greg Jones, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Angus Curtis, 23 Ben Moxham..
Leinster: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose (captain), 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Ala’alatoa, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Rónan Kelleher, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Vakhtang Abdaladze, 19 James Ryan, 20 Will Connors, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 Charlie Ngatai.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eoghan Cross (Ireland), Andrew Cole (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
Photo credit: @Leinster