Ulster into play-off’s after Ravenhill defeat

Paddy Jackson
Paddy Jackson

After a pulsating and remarkable Irish PRO12 derby in Belfast on Friday night, Ulster secured their place in back to back championship play-offs in spite of losing to their rivals Leinster.

Ulster needed only a losing bonus point from their remaining two games of the regular PRO12 season and 16 minutes into the game they would probably have taken it.

Ireland prop, Tom Court, on his final game at Ravenhill, was red carded for a tip tackle on Leinster second row, Devin Toner.

It was almost deja vu with Ulster having gone down to 14 men four weeks ago against Saracens in the Heineken Cup quarter-final after only five minutes.

On that occasion, Ulster were to come up short 17-15 and went out of Europe.

But to come within two points of the league leaders and current champions was a fine achievement last night and more importantly, the losing bonus point secured guaranteed them a place in the semi-finals. They will probably face Leinster in Dublin in two weeks time.

Leinster may have taken the victory, but the overall outcome at the end of a superb Irish derby meant the visitors had not totally rained down on Ulster’s party on the occasion they officially opened the new Ravenhill stadium

Leinster were obviously targeting the Ulster pack early on and a penalty saw outhalf Ian Madigan punish Andy Warwick’s indiscretion at the scrum after six minutes.

He doubled the lead to six points with another penalty four minutes later, Warwick pinged for coming in at the side of a ruck.

Jackson’s restart did not go 10m and Leinster scrummed on half way. Further pressure led to another penalty, a long range effort on 14 minutes, but Madigan was short of the target.

Ulster had been penalised at almost every ruck, but worse was to come when, on 16 minutes, Tom Court was sent off for a dangerous tackle.

Rob Herring had lifted Rhys Ruddock initially and it was more unfortunate than deliberate that Ruddock ended up being driven down on his head and shoulder.

It incensed the home crowd, obviously, but Leinster saw their opportunity and put the penalty into the corner.

The lineout and drive came was halted by Ulster as was the ensuing blue wave of pressure, Ulster eventually cleared.

If the game was not already lively enough, Jackson charged down a Madigan clearance attempt and then gathered the ball to race for the Memorial End corner.

He managed to dot the ball down, but in doing so was high tackled by fellow Irish international and Leinster fullback, Rob Kearney which earned him a yellow card.

Jackson’s touchline conversion shaved the outside of the left post.

It was the ginger outhalf who was taken out in the air by Ruddock minutes later and that earned a yellow card for the blindside flanker and Ulster now had the numerical advantage, 14-13.

Jackson had nudged Ulster ahead 8-6 with a penalty, but Madigan took Leinster into a half time lead 9-8 ahead with a penalty.

It took Madigan three attempts to find his range with the boot in the second half, converting a penalty after two misses in the 52nd minute which made it 12-8.

Impressive Jackson - who had a controlled game throughout - kept Ulster within a point landing one of his own after 57 minutes after replacement centre Darren Cave made a surging break into the Leinster ‘22’.

Shane Jennings threatened to spoil the Ulster party with a try, converted by Madigan on 58 minutes which took the hosts into an eight point advantage.

Jackson and Leinster replacement outhalf, Jimmy Gopperth exchanged penalties to make it 22-14 as the game went into the final 10 minutes.

Ulster still outside the seven points needed for a losing bonus point.

News Letter man of the match Jackson was to land two more penalties, and although it was a win for Leinster on the night, Ulster had reason to celebrate and they can now look forward to the rest of the season and trying to get their hands on some silverware before the end of their campaign.

There is still work to do - but the 14 men last night can be proud of their efforts.