It might have been a much-changed Leinster outfit that travelled up to a wind-strewn Kingspan Stadium, but through expert game management, helped by a totally inept Ulster line-out, they were able to continue their current hot streak coming off two bonus-point wins in Europe.
Leinster, who are now three points behind Scarlets in Conference B were just too cute; too quick of thought, they had a better skill level, and their set-piece excelled. All this and the ability to have a clinical finish with replacement scrum-half Luke McGrath grabbing a second-half brace on top of a brilliant 16th-minute effort from the dancing feet of Jordan Larmour.
Ulster, who had a strong wind at their tails, were well in the game trailing 13-10 at the break helped by a driving try off the back of a scrum by number eight Sean Reidy.
But, alas, their whole structure fell apart on the restart as errors raised their ugly head again, many unforced.
But losing seven of their own line-outs and getting turned-over was not exactly conducive to a killer instinct in the red zone.
It leaves Leinster in good shape for Glasgow next week, while a disjointed Ulster face a difficult week-long trip to Bloemfontein where the Southern Kings lie in wait searching for the first points.
Said Leinster head coach Leo Cullen: “It was far from a classic. It was a reasonably poor game with both teams making a lot of errors. But we haven’t had a great record here over the past few years, so we are happy with the outcome.
“Performance-wise, there were some good aspects from our defence. One of things is that these weeks there is a challenge as there is so much emotional energy going into the last couple of weeks when you think of Munster at the Aviva and the two European games, and even though we had a lot of changes, and we were very conscious of that, we were a little bit flat.”
Cullen also praised his side the way the handled going down to 14 men after Dave Kearney was yellow carded in the 55th minute. In those 10 minutes, Ulster failed to score, but Leinster scored that try by McGrath who was only on the pitch three minutes.
“I thought we controlled the game reasonably well in that period, helped by Ulster who coughed the ball up a few times. We began to get a dominance in the scrums. It took us a while to wear them down in that area, but we got a bit of dominance and kept Ulster just out of our ‘22’, and Luke got that breakaway try as well, which had a big bearing on the game.”
Rory Best, who was making his 200th appearance for Ulster, was obviously down in the mouth as he had little to celebrate.
“We talked about it being a big inter-pro. You know when Leinster are going well, you need to be on your money to beat them. As a team, especially when you lose somebody like Jean (Deysel) early, you need phases to get into the game. We are not like La Rochelle with four or five people of 130 kilos, we need a strong set-piece, but unfortunately we didn’t have that. We had a lot of knock-ons, a couple of turn-overs, and while our scrum was good, our line-out didn’t function to the standard we have set.”
C Piutau: T Bowe, L Marshall, S McCloskey (Ludik, 70), J Stockdale: C Lealiifano (Nelson, 67), A Cairns (Stewart, 62): C Black (Warwick, 57), R Best (Herring, 56), R Ah You (Kane, 74), A O’Connor (Treadwell, 62), I Henderson (capt), S Reidy, C Henry, J Deysel (Diack, 15).
R Kearney, A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, N Reid (Larmour, 2), D Kearney, R Byrne (Marsh, 78), J Gibson-Park (McGrath, 67); J McGrath (Healy, 48), J Tracy (Strauss, 66), T Furlong (Porter, 61), D Toner, J Ryan (Molony, 11), D Leavy (Conan, 57), J Murphy, S O’Brien.
John Lacey (IRFU).