Leinster move through the gears to dismiss Ulster and march into last eight

Champions Cup favourites put in a good showing against Ulster but know their great will very soon be required 
Leinster move through the gears to dismiss Ulster and march into last eight

HUSTLE AND HEFT: Ryan Baird of Leinster, supported by teammate Tadhg Furlong, on his way to scoring his side's first try during the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 match between Leinster and Ulster at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Pic: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Leinster 30 Ulster 15 

There did not appear to be significant travelling support in this sell-out crowd, but with halftime approaching and Ross Byrne standing over his conversion a raucous roar filled the ground. Ulster fans, players and medics all united in outrage as Jack Conan’s try appeared on-screen and looked to be illegitimate.

Luke Pearce halted Byrne and went for a closer look. A Josh van der Flier pass and superb Conan dummy had briefly taken attention away from the fact the Man of the Match lost possession in the process. Ulster had brief cause to celebrate, Leinster eventually came away with three instead of seven to leave eight between them at the break.

That was as competitive as it got in this all-Irish affair for the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 knockout tie. In the end it was a 15-point win and good showing from the tournament favourites. Their great will be required later.

Leinster looked to squeeze from the jump, but Ulster held tight in the opening quarter. After Rob Herring dropped the initial kick-off, their scramble defence responded impressively and won a scrum. They dug in and cleared their lines, only for Ross Byrne to send a probing kick right back. Dan McFarland’s men slowed it down and kicked for touch.

We were then treated to the rare sight of a Hugo Keenan handling error as relentless misty rain rolled down. Nathan Doak made no mistake with the penalty. Ross Byrne replied with one of his one.

Only three kilograms separated the packs in weight, yet the margin was vast in tight exchanges. A Herring knock-on on the halfway line gave the Leinster pack the perfect platform and they duly forced a penalty.

The subsequent passage was strikingly predictable. This train’s arrival time was well established and there was never any chance of stopping it. Then again, when it’s Ryan Baird and Tadhg Furlong coming down the tracks there are few obstacles in the world sufficiently capable of resistance.

Byrne went to the corner for a lineout for a maul. Around the corner they swept. Over Baird went, with assistance from his tighthead.

There was a brief deviation from the script when Leinster’s poor kick chase was expertly exposed. James Lowe’s left-footed clearance stayed in play for Jacob Stockdale to rebound back with interest. He claimed his own effort and suddenly, Billy Burns was looking to the touchline where Furlong was the wide defender facing James Hume. As big an open goal as the five-star chasing side will afford all season. Burns’ crossfield kick was accurate, Hume made no mistake. Doak was unable to add the extra and thus their half-time total was eight to Leinster’s 16.

With 13 of Ireland's Grand Slam winning stars in their starting selection, Leinster were strong as sea swell. By the sixty-minute mark Ulster were desperately flapping in a bid to stay afloat and had used up six replacements to Leinster’s one. They enjoyed plenty of early possession after the turnaround and couldn’t make it count. An inevitable yellow card came for James Hume and it opened the door for a well-taken try.

Four years ago, when these teams met in familiar circumstances, Jamison Gibson-Park logged eight minutes, coming on as a replacement and leaving shortly after due to a head knock. Ross Byrne featured for the same amount. They both started on Saturday and were still going strong with the hour approaching. Gibson-Park recovered well after Leinster looked to go wide to collect the dropped ball and race under the posts for Byrne’s easiest kick of the day. What a difference a World Cup cycle makes.

To their credit Ulster refused to give in. They exploited Leinster’s one slight weakness, maul defence, from a lineout in the corner as Herring touched down. So, Leo Cullen’s outfit turned to their power once more. Jimmy O’Brien was just held up and Andrew Porter had a crack moments later. The try was as fated as the tide.

In truth, Leinster never hit top gear. They never needed to. Leicester Tigers await.

Scorers for Leinster: Tries: Baird, Gibson-Park, Porter. Cons: Baird, R. Byrne 2. Pens: R. Byrne 2, Baird.

Scorers for Ulster: Tries: Hume, Herring. Cons: Cooney. Pens: Doak.

Leinster: H Keenan; J Larmour, J O’Brien, R Henshaw, J Lowe, R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; A Porter, D Sheehan, T Furlong, R Molony, J Ryan – captain, R Baird, J Van Der Flier, J Conan.

Replacements: S Penny for van der Flier (55), M Ala’Aliatoa for Furlong (64), McGrath for Gibson-Park (67), J Jenkins for Ryan (68), J McKee for Sheehan (70), C Healy for Porter (70), H Byrne for Byrne (73), C Frawley for Henshaw (73).

Ulster: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, J Stockdale, B Burns, N Doak; R Sutherland, R Herring, T O’Toole, A O’Connor - captain, K Treadwell, D McCann, N Timoney, D Vermeulen.

Replacements: J Toolmaga-Allen for O’Toole (half-time), H Sheridan for McCann (47), J Cooney for Doak (50), S Moore for Burns (55) T Stewart for Herring (60), E O’Sullivan for Sutherland (63), Herring for Stewart (65), M Rea for Treadwell (67).

Yellow card: J Hume – 53 mins 

Referee: L Pearce (England).

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