Leinster edge game of two halves against Ulster
It was a game of two halves at the Kingspan Stadium as Leinster gained the upper hand at the top of the URC with a hard-fought seven-point win over an Ulster side that gave themselves too big of a mountain to climb after a disappointing first half.
Too often in the opening 40 minutes, Ulster were guilty of coughing up possession too cheaply and Leinster were more than happy to take full advantage. But Leo Cullen's men were ruthless in that first period.
For long periods, they owned the ball, and their dominance was rewarded by scoring two tries through Ryan Baird and Dan Sheehan.
There was a strong second half rally but despite going close through Aaron Sexton, that elusive second try just wouldn't come about.
Sexton's effort turned out to be a big talking point when at first glance it looked like his grounding was good, but with a little help of technology, Sexton and Ulster were to be denied.
Leinster showed their intent as early as the 7th minute. Winning a scrum penalty against the head on half-way presented Ross Byrne with a chance to earn the visitors some territory deeper into the Ulster half.
From the resulting lineout, flanker Baird went over. It was a score that came about after some quick handling involving most of the Leinster backline.
Ulster settled and went on to enjoy their most productive spell of the half. Following a sustained period of pressure, Marcus Rea thought he got Ulster's first try of the evening, but despite getting over the line, a Leinster arm prevented him from touching down.
Instead, Ulster had to settle for a penalty from John Cooney in the 19th minute but just three minutes later, Leinster stretched their lead with a second try. And it was all Ulster's own undoing.
Aaron Sexton took a quick lineout and before Jacob Stockdale had time to think, he was confronted by three Leinster men who forced a penalty which Byrne kicked into touch.
From the following lineout, Ulster had to answer to a powerful Leinster maul and hooker Dan Sheehan crashed over the line. Byrne added the conversion for a healthy eleven-point lead.
To make matters worse, Ulster lost Rob Herring to injury. Byrne pushed Leinster's lead out to fourteen points by adding a penalty after 31 minutes, a lead which they held to half-time.
A further Byrne penalty six minutes after the restart gave Leinster a commanding 20-3 lead.
The rain eventually moved on, and this was to signal a vast improvement in Ulster's performance.
Stuart McCloskey's first big carry of the night on 61 minutes was followed by a yellow card to Leinster full back Jimmy O'Brien.
Ulster took full advantage and from a maul hooker John Andrew touched down and at last the home crowd found their voice.
Cooney gave them something else to cheer about when he kicked a penalty with seven minutes to go, but it was as close as Ulster got as the visitors held on for the win.
Ulster: M Lowry, A Sexton, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale, B Burns, J Cooney, A Warick, R Herring, T O'Toole, A O'Connor, Matty Rea, Marcus Rea, N Timoney.
Replacements: J Andrew for Herring (23), Moxham for Stockdale (HT), E O'Sullivan for Warwick (58), M Moore for O'Toole (58), G Jones for Matty Rea (58), S Carter for K Treadwell (62), D Shanahan for Cooney (73), A Curtis for Marshall (73).
Tries: Andrew (62),
Conversions: Cooney (63)
Penalties: Cooney (19, 73)
Leinster: J O'Brien, J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, D Kearney, R Byrne, L McGrath, A Porter, D Sheehan, M Ala'alatoa, R Molony, J Jenkins, R Baird, J Van Der Flier, J Conan.
Replacements: J Ryan for Jenkins (56), E Byrne for Porter (64), C Ngatai for Kearney (64), J Sexton for R Byrne (67), N McCarthy for McGrath (67) W Connors for Baird (67), V Abdaladze for Ala'alatoa (73).
Tries: Baird (8), Sheehan (22)
Conversions: R Byrne (9, 23,)
Penalties: R Byrne (37, 46,)
Yellow: O'Brien (62)
Referee: Mr Andrew Brace (IRFU)