Fourteen-man Leinster storm back in second half to claim bonus-point win over Ulster
The hosts were 22-3 behind but scored 35 consecutive points on either side of the break to sensationally turn the game on its head.
Daire Walsh reports from the RDS
FOURTEEN-MAN LEINSTER PRODUCED a stellar second-half display at the RDS this evening to secure a bonus-point victory over interprovincial rivals Ulster.
Reeling from the 21st-minute dismissal of Cian Healy, the hosts were 22-3 behind at an advanced stage in the opening period. However, Leinster dug deep in the face of adversity and 35 consecutive points either side of the interval helped the unbeaten Blues to move nine points clear at the United Rugby Championship summit.
Following a cagey opening to the contest that saw Ross Byrne and Ulster scrum-half John Cooney – heavily linked with a switch of international allegiances to Scotland – trading penalties, disaster struck for Leinster just beyond the first-quarter mark.
On his return to the eastern province’s starting line-up (along with a host of other Irish stars) Healy was issued with a straight red card for connecting with the head of Ulster hooker Tom Stewart.
The subsequent withdrawal of Stewart meant Rob Herring was thrust into the action earlier than anticipated and the Ireland international touched down off a line-out maul within 60 seconds of his introduction. Leinster winger Jimmy O’Brien was indirectly replaced by Andrew Porter in order to fill Healy’s vacant loosehead prop role, but a buoyant Ulster stretched 19 points clear courtesy of well-worked tries from Kieran Treadwell and Ethan McIlroy.
Leinster now found themselves in a precarious position, but Rónan Kelleher offered them renewed hope with a converted maul try on the stroke of half-time.
Although the odds were still seemingly stacked against them at 12 points adrift (22-10), the pendulum spectacularly swung in Leinster’s favour when Garry Ringrose weaved his way through for superb individual tries in the 59th and 63rd minutes.
In the aftermath of both of these scores, Ulster duo James Hume and Nick Timoney were sent to the sin-bin by referee Christophe Ridley. This meant Leinster were suddenly in possession of a numerical advantage (albeit a temporary one) and with Byrne adding two routine conversions, a slender lead to compliment it.
Porter and James Lowe added quickfire tries in the closing moments to place the outcome beyond doubt, though Sam Carter did cross over at the very end to ensure Ulster came away with a try bonus of their own.
Tries: Rónan Kelleher, Garry Ringrose 2, Andrew Porter, James Lowe
Conversions: Ross Byrne [5 from 5]
Penalties: Ross Byrne [1 from 1]
Tries: Rob Herring, Kieran Treadwell, Ethan McIlroy, Sam Carter
Conversions: John Cooney [2 from 3], Nathan Doak [1 from 1]
Penalties: John Cooney [1 from 1]
LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jimmy O’Brien (Andrew Porter ’25), Garry Ringrose (Liam Turner ’77), Jamie Osborne, James Lowe; Ross Byrne (Charlie Tector ’77), Jamison Gibson-Park (Nick McCarthy ’73); Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher (Dan Sheehan ’45), Michael Ala’alatoa (Tadhg Furlong ’45-’77); James Ryan, Jason Jenkins (Ross Molony ’66); Ryan Baird, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan (Caelan Doris ’57).
ULSTER: Michael Lowry; Ethan McIlroy, James Hume (Jacob Stockdale ’71), Stuart McCloskey, Stewart Moore; Billy Burns, John Cooney (Nathan Doak ’45); Andy Warwick (Callum Reid ’73), Tom Stewart (Rob Herring ’21), Marty Moore (Tom O’Toole ’52); Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell (Sam Carter ’52); Iain Henderson (Duane Vermeulen ’57), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney (Matty Rea ’74).
Referee: Christophe Ridley (RFU)