Ulster Rugby battle hard but losing run continues with defeat by Leinster
PRO14 Rainbow Cup: Leinster 21 Ulster 17
ULSTER fell to a fourth successive defeat last night when they went down 21-17 to Leinster in the PRO14 Rainbow Cup, despite a battling display against a side containing 13 internationals.
So, a win for Dan McFarland's side at the RDS again proved elusive but it was a close-run thing after they led early on and then edged 10-7 ahead early in the second-half before staging a late rally after Leinster had turned the tables to go 21-10 up.
There were plenty of positives as the likes of Stuart McCloskey and Nick Timoney, for example, shone brightly watched by Ireland boss Andy Farrell who will soon be naming a squad for the summer games against Japan and USA.
Ulster made an impressive start, winning a turnover straight from the kick-off and then dominating the early stages without registering on the scoreboard.
The visitors then stole lineout ball as they continued their early promise and subsequently earned the first penalty of the game after Leinster had been caught offside.
However, after Billy Burns had kicked into touch, Leinster retaliated by winning possession from the Ulster lineout after good work by James Ryan.
Then on 11 minutes, Dave Shanahan almost gave Ulster the lead but the diminutive scrum-half was unable to stretch far enough and touch down following a break by McCloskey.
The much-vaunted Ulster lineout unfortunately wasn't firing on all cylinders in the early stages and a stray throw from Rob Herring on the quarter-hour mark was again picked up by Ryan.
But all was forgiven four minutes later when Rob Baloucoune broke the deadlock with a stunning try which was expertly converted by Burns.
It was just reward for Ulster's early efforts as the winger touched down after Burns threw a superb long pass to Jacob Stockdale who broke a tackle and set up the Enniskillen man who went over in the corner.
But Ulster's joy was short-lived as Cian Healy responded seven minutes later with a try awarded after the referee had consulted the TMO.
Burns' attempted clearance kick was initially been charged down allowing the prop to take advantage with Garry Ringrose adding the extras to tie things up.
Ulster then lost their captain's challenge, allowed under the Rainbow Cup's trial rules, after Baloucoune had been clattered by Rob Henshaw.
But referee Mike Adamson, in conjunction with his TMO, adjudged that there was no clear contact to the player's head, merely awarding a penalty to Ulster for a high tackle much to the frustration of Iain Henderson.
Ulster continued to take the game to Leinster and terrific breaks by Baloucoune and James Hume went unrewarded as the hosts defended well.
It was then Ulster's turn to be on the back foot as Leinster attacked with gusto as half-time beckoned but the teams went into the break all-square.
Stockdale lasted only four minutes of the second-half as he had to retire with an injury with Rob Lyttle being introduced in his place.
Burns had a chance to restore Ulster's lead shortly afterwards but the fly-half's effort off the tee drifted wide of the left-hand post.
But the former Gloucester player made amends in the 52nd minute when he knocked over a more straightforward penalty to make it 10-7.
Leinster wasted little time in responding, Jack Conan darting through a gap and taking advantage of some slack Ulster defence to go over within a couple of minutes of coming off the bench and Ringrose nailed the conversion as Leinster led for the first time in the match.
Ulster survived a scare in the 59th minute when Henderson managed to prevent substitute prop Michael Milne from scoring following a tap-and-go penalty.
But the try which had seemed inevitable in the light of almost constant home pressure arrived three minutes later when Henshaw crossed after great play by Tommy O'Brien and Ringrose again succeeded with the conversion to make it 21-10 and a two-score game.
Ulster secured a losing bonus-point in the last minute when Craig Gilroy touched down for Ian Madigan to convert but despite some late pressure they were unable to add a third try which would have given them a rare victory at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) Arena in Dublin.
Leinster: J O'Brien; Larmour, Ringrose, Henshaw, Kearney; R Byrne, McGrath (capt); Healy, Cronin, Furlong; Baird, Ryan; Murphy, Van der Flier, Doris.
Replacements: Kelleher, Milne, Bent, Toner, Conan, Foley, O'Loughlin, T O'Brien
Ulster: Stockdale, Baloucoune, Hume, McCloskey, Gilroy; Burns, Shanahan; O'Sullivan, Herring, Moore; Carter, Henderson (capt); Matthew Rea, Reidy, Timoney.
Replacements: Roberts, Reid, O'Toole, A O'Connor, Jones, Doak, Madigan, Lyttle
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRFU)