Ulster 8 Leinster 16
Ulster’s hopes of making the RaboDirect PRO12 League play-offs look to be over after they fell to their second successive league defeat.
Ulster lost 16-8 at home to table-topping Leinster who have already booked their home semi-final.
Only a series of other results going their way can now keep Ulster in with a chance going into the last weekend of games though Brian McLaughlin’s men will now have to travel to Thomond Park to replicate their epic European defeat of Munster in their final league clash and even that may not be enough.
The result was also a blow ahead of Ulster’s massive Heineken Cup semi-final with Edinburgh next weekend – especially with Chris Henry, Paddy Wallace and Pedrie Wannenburg all departing with injuries – and saw them fall to only their second home reverse in 21 games.
Defeat also marked their final home game of the season and McLaughlin’s last stand in Belfast before he steps aside for Kiwi Mark Anscombe
Leinster, pretty much at full strength ahead of their own European semi-final away to Clermont with Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Jonathan Sexton in the side, opened the scoring after seven minutes.
After Fergus McFadden’s break, the visitors rucked aggressively towards Ulster’s line and Eoin Reddan skipped a pass to Sean O’Brien to put Kevin McLaughlin clean through for the score, which Sexton converted.
Ruan Pienaar could then only hit the upright with a 23rd minute penalty but Ulster were able to hit back almost immediately when a combination of Willie Faloon and Paddy Wallace put Johann Muller into space and the skipper made the line for his first try.
The try was awarded by the TMO despite the fact it appeared Muller made a double movement.
Pienaar saw his difficult conversion sail wide to the left and Leinster stayed 7-5 in front until Sexton made it 10-5 just before the half hour when Wannenburg - in his last appearance at Ravenhill – was penalised at a ruck.
Ulster then lost Wallace who was taken off looking groggy as he joined Henry who had departed earlier with what appeared to be a shin problem.
Pienaar at least managed his first successful kick at goal with a 37th minute penalty but the half ended with Sexton kicking three points from right under Ulster’s posts to give the visitors a 13-8 half-time lead.
Things did not improve for Ulster on the injury front as Wannenburg departed early in the second half before Pienaar was again wide, this time with a long range penalty effort on 52 minutes.
The game then lost its shape as both sides made a raft of substitutions but Leinster still scored next with Sexton nailing a snap drop goal after 67 minutes to take his side’s lead to 16-8.
With more substitutions following, the game broke up even more and Ulster were unable to score again in a failed bid to get a losing bonus point.