Ulster score league double over Leinster to underline progress
United Rugby Championship: Ulster 18 Leinster 13
ULSTER’S season of progress took another major step forward on Saturday night when they saw off league leaders and local rivals Leinster at a rain and wind lashed Kingspan Stadium.
First half tries from Sam Carter and Player of the Match Michael Lowry helped Dan McFarland’s side to a hard fought five-point victory.
Ulster failed to score in the second half as the conditions deteriorated but they kept the visitors to only three points. A 43rd minute penalty from Ross Byrne was all Leinster could muster as they threw the kitchen sink and a little bit more at a dogged home defence.
It’s the first time since the 2012/13 season that Ulster have managed to achieve a league double over Leinster, and it’s the first time that any team has beaten Leinster twice in one season since 2014/15. A stat that McFarland was quick to point out afterwards.
“Not since 2012/13 only one team has done it in the league group stages and that was Dragons in 14/15. That really says how difficult it is to do that task," he said.
“Winning away in Dublin was the big one and that was the game we played really well in, we didn’t play very well tonight, but we ground out the win and I think the lads can take a lot of confidence from that and be proud of that achievement."
Nathan Doak converted a ninth minute try by second row Sam Carter, but Leinster responded quickly when Byrne kicked a penalty to cut their arrears to four points.
Leinster then went on to enjoy a sustained period of territory and possession and just shy of the half hour mark number eight Max Deegan touched down. Byrne converted to give Leinster a slender three-point lead.
Doak levelled the tie two minutes later at 10-10 with a successful penalty attempt before Lowry linked up with Baloucoune to extend Ulster’s advantage on 35 minutes.
Another Doak penalty on the stroke of half-time meant Ulster took an eight-point advantage into the sheds at the break.
In the second half the standard of play started to wane as quick as the weather.
Leinster upped the ante considerably by introducing players of the calibre of Devin Toner, Sean Cronin and Daniel Leavy but Ulster’s defence stood tall to keep the visitors at bay.
It was far from Ulster’s best performance of the season but as McFarland eluded to afterwards, the ability to win ugly is not a bad trait to have.
“It certainly wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t a game that we played particularly well in.
“To stay in the game like we did, or to at least score the two really nice tries that we did and then to put in the defensive effort in the second half there when other areas of our game that normally function really well, weren’t functioning was a testament to the amount of work that the lads put in.”
“In the first half we lacked a bit of energy. We didn’t do well in the aerial game. We weren’t winning back any of our kicks and they were putting a lot of balls on top of us. They kicked the leather out of the ball and it was a good tactic for them because they were winning the ball back,”
“It was a little bit disappointing that we didn’t have the energy we wanted but I thought Leinster were excellent. They came with a team missing a lot of players, and I know we were missing a lot of players as well, but they came and worked hard and played a really good game.