LEINSTER 13 ULSTER 9
Leinster made it four RaboDirect PRO12 finals in succession on Saturday night when they came from behind to defeat Ulster at a packed RDS in Dublin.
Ulster had led throughout the game after three penalties from Paddy Jackson, but Jimmy Gopperth chipped away at that advantage with two penalties before replacement Ian Madigan scored the only try of the match nine minutes from the end.
The defending champions had a four-point advantage with Gopperth’s conversion and Ulster went for one last push but were to be denied by a superb Leinster defence.
A knockon close to the line was to determine the outcome of the game – and it was Leinster who were coming back to the RDS on May 31 to face Glasgow Warriors in the Grand Final.
Ulster dominated the opening quarter and although Ruan Pienaar missed a long range penalty on three minutes, Paddy Jackson nudged one over in front of the posts four minutes later for a 3-0 lead.
But Leinster rallied at the start of the second half after a great break by Dave Kearney, but the Blues met a resolute Ulster defence.
Both teams had opportunities, but Ulster would get to the half way line only to have possession lost by a forward pass, knock-on or an infringement.
But Leinster encounter the same lack of accuracy and discipline and on 34 minutes Leinster centre, Gordon D’Arcy, was sinbinned. He has shoulder charged Tommy Bowe after the Ulster winger had called a mark.
Ulster pressed hard in the closing minutes of the half, but poor decision making allowed Leinster’s 14 men to cover the danger.
An offside by the hosts, however, did give Jackson a penalty changed, which he despatched with the final kick of the half and give Ulster a 6-0 advatnage.
Leinster made the stronger start to the second half with a surging break by Devin Toner.
However, both sides had their chances but tended to lack accuracy when it mattered most and the game stopped and started between both 10 metre lines.
Brian O’Driscoll received yet another standing ovation as the Irish centre was forced off after 49 minutes – replaced by Ian Madigan.
Jackson gave Ulster a 9-0 lead with his third successful penalty of the evening, but Devin Toner then made a huge break to put Ulster on the front foot and pressing strongly in Ulster ‘22’. But Ulster defended well, kept their discipline and Leinster knocked on.
On 55 minutes Ulster lost Jackson, replaced by James McKinney, but another missed penalty to touch from Pienaar gave Leinster the ball and Madigan made a huge break before D Kearney took it on and a penalty came with Gopperth getting the first points of the night for the home Province to trail 3-9.
Pienaar charged down Gopperth’s attempted clearance under his own posts on the hour mark, but D Kearney was able to gather and run the ball out of his in goal area.
Leinster, with O.Brien and Cullen now on from the bench, were stronger and Gopperth brought them to within three points with a penalty on 63 minutes.
Ulster then found an extra gear and came in waves at the Leinster line but just could not find a way through. A knockon and then a penalty at a scrum saw a chance go as the game moved towards the last 10 minutes.
The vital score came on 71 minutes when Ian Madigan went between McKinney and Payne to score the only try of the match. Gopperth converted for a 13-9 lead.
Ulster rolled the dice one last time and for five minutes pressurised the home line, but the Blues defence was there.
Payne almost went in at the corner, but was tackled short, the ball was knocked on and with it the chance of a place in the Grand Final.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney; Jimmy Gopperth, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Martin Moore, Devin Toner, Quinn Roux, Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: Aaron Dundon (Cronin 78), Jack McGrath (Healy 65), Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (Roux 52), Sean O’Brien (Ruddock 52), Luke McGrath (D Kearney 68), Ian Madigan (O’Driscoll 49), Zane Kirchner.
ULSTER:Craig Gilroy; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Darren Cave, Andrew Trimble; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Callum Black, Rory Best, Ricky Lutton, Johann Muller (capt), Iain Henderson, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Roger Wilson.
ReplacementsRob Herring, Andrew Warwick (Lutton 61), Adam Macklin, Dan Tuohy (Muller 57), Sean Doyle (Henry 68), Paul Marshall, James McKinney (Jackson 55), Luke Marshall (Cave 56)
Ref: Leighton Hodges (WRU)