Firstly, there was number 8, Roger Wilson, deservedly picking up the man-of-the-match award, charging over from close range in the ninth minute to celebrate his 122nd and final appearance for the men in white with a try. It was a lead they were never to relinquish, although they did their best to throw it away thanks to a disastrously-ragged lineout performance and numerous errors.
“That try was my first for five years,” said Wilson, who is takes up a coaching role in Texas next season. “But the most pleasing thing was the result. It’s been a bit doom and gloom over the past two weeks especially, so it was important to finish off on a high going into the summer. This game was all about trying to get a bit of individual pride. I think we delivered. It was good to produce a performance worthy of a win, although it was far from flashy but we got over the line.”
However, it took a piece of genius from the departing Ruan Pienaar in the 55th minute to finally seal the deal. With a typically delicate cross-field kick, he put Andrew Trimble over in the corner. That gave Ulster the daylight they needed with a 17-6 lead. But it will be that sort of foresight, ingenuity, and guile from Pienaar that Ulster are going to miss next season, and beyond. Leinster, who butchered at least three try opportunities, were surprisingly off-colour even though they had a raft of first-choice players rested. They did come back with a 62nd minute penalty try, but Ulster held strong, for Pienaar, more than anything.
Playing his 141st and last competitive game for Ulster in a city that is now his home, Pienaar will now head to France for a couple of seasons, before returning. He had his good friend from Durban and former South African and Ulster skipper Johann Muller, as well as his father Gysie, on hand to help through an emotional day. Not surprisingly, at the end of a disappointing season for Ulster, the 33-year-old from Bloemfontein was named Heineken Personality of the Year at a post-match gala evening.
“It was great for the boys to get that win,” said Pienaar, who will have one last appearance at Ravenhill when he will be playing in that Barbarians game against Ulster on June 1. “I am just so happy we got the win, it was a great send off for not only me, but Roger, Neil (Doak), Clarkey (Allen Clarke), and Franco (van der Merwe). I am so happy the guys stuck at it to give us victory. But it is such a sad day.”
Leinster coach Leo Cullen was obviously disappointed at losing to his adversaries from the north, but he put it down to the fact that they had little to play for.
“You start off the season going for a home semi-final place, and we’ve known we had that for the last couple of weeks,” said Cullen. “That definitely effected the mentality of our players who were off their game today. We didn’t give a full account of ourselves. But credit to Ulster, they were good. They bullied us out there at times in the contact areas. So the guys will need to have a good look at themselves going forward.”
All other points in the game came from the boot with Paddy Jackson, slotting two conversions and a penalty, with Joey Carbery landing two penalties and a conversion.
(Wilson, Trimble tries, Jackson 2 conversions, pen)
(Penalty try; Carbery 2 penalties, conversion).
C Gilroy (Stockdale, 48); A Trimble (capt), L Marshall, S McCloskey, C Piutau (Nelson, 59); P Jackson, R Pienaar (Marshall, 69); A Warwick (McCall, 66), R Herring (Andrew, 75), R Ah You (Lutton 30); K Treadwell (Timoney, 66), A O’Connor; R Diack, S Reidy, R Wilson (Henry, 62).
I Nacewa; A Byrne, G Ringrose, N Reid (O’Loughlin, 72), F McFadden; J Carberry, L McGrath; J McGrath (Healy, 56), J Tracy (Strauss, 56), T Furlong (Porter, 68), D Toner, H Triggs (Malony, 56); R Ruddock, J (Gibson-Park, 63) van der Flier (Leavy, 56), J Conan.
Andrew Brace (IRFU).