Leinster and Ulster serve up 14 tries in Dublin PRO14 derby thriller
LEINSTER 54 ULSTER 42
A young and inexperienced Ulster side battled hard at the RDS in Dublin on Friday night, scoring six tries, but Leinster were too strong and scored eight of their own to take a comfortable victory and extend their lead at the top of Conference A in the Guinness PRO14 Championship.
The combined 96 points from the scoreline set a new record between the Provinces, in what was a thrilling encounter - although Leinster's victory never looked in doubt.
Both sides had made extensive changes to their sides from those which had won in the European Heineken Champions Cup a week before, with Leinster showing their strength in depth and being able to pick several experienced players, among them Rob Kearney and Robbie Henshaw.
While overall Ulster were outplayed by the Province in Blue, particularly in the first half, four debuts were handed out during the course of the game, Ethan McElroy, Azur Allison, Stewart Moore and Jack Regan which bodes well for the future.
In a frantic opening 10 minutes both sides scored tries. Leinster drew first blood after just two minutes when number eight Max Deegan went over after some steady forward pressure.
Outhalf Harry Byrne converted for a 5-0 lead, but three penalties later - all kicked to touch - saw Ulster draw later on nine minutes.
Matt Faddes came in narrow to the set piece and that was enough to open a gap to the Leinster defence on the left, which winger Angus Kernohan ran into and forced his way over in the corner. Outhalf Bill Johnston converted from the sideline.
But Leinster were ahead again on 16 minutes when backrow forward Scott Penny went over and Byrne converted.
Faddes was then sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Tommy O’Brien and the blue sea engulfed Ulster with two more tries. Penny crossed again after forward pressure and the bonus point was bagged on 28 minutes when centre Robbie Henshaw crossed. Byrne converted both for a 28-7 lead.
The inexperienced Ulster side could have let the heads drop, but they battled away and a mistake between Deegan and Jamison Gibson-Park saw Faddes - just back from the bin - react quickest and raced away from the halfway line, skinning fullback Rob Kearney on the way to dot down.
Johnston again converted to make it 28-14, but the host Province had the final say before the break with an unconverted try through winger Fergus McFadden.
Leinster outhalf Bryne, who was having an impressive game, got the Blue steamroller moving again four minutes into the second half when he threw a looping pass out to Kearney and the fullback went over. Byrne made if five from six with the boot to make it 40-14.
Then an outrageous crossfield kick from a penalty award by McFadden saw him pick out centre Henshaw and he took off before the perfect offload to winger Cian Kelleher who raced in from 45m to score the try. Bryne added the extras for a 47-14 lead on 49 minutes.
What looked like a serious left knee injury to Ulster centre Angus Curtis on 51 minutes provided the opportunity for the visitors to introduce a third debutant in Azur Allison, with Ethan McIlroy (for Rob Lyttle) coming on in the first half and Stewart Moore having replaced Matt Faddes early in the second half.
That led to a cabinet reshuffle for Ulster forced to move loose forward Nick Timoney going to the wing to allow Allison to play in the back row.
The front row was also replaced, Kyle McCall, John Andrew and Ross Kane introduced to the contest on 57 minutes.
Ulster got their first score of the second half when winger Craig Gilroy punished a mistake by Leinster intercepting Penny’s pass to Deegan and racing away for the try which Johnston converted to make it 47-21 as the hour mark arrived.
But the familiar sight of a sea of blue shirts pressing the Ulster line returned three minutes later and number eight Deegan crashed over for the try from a close range scrum. The hosts had crossed the half century mark and Byrne, with his seventh successful kick from eight, made it 54-21.
Ulster continued to battle and two minutes later secured a try scoring bonus point when Dave Shanahan popped the ball to number eight Greg Jones to go over, Johnston making it four from four with the boot.
Alan O’Connor, who captained Ulster on the occasion of his 100th cap, yielded to make way for a fourth debutant, Jack Regan in the second row with 10 minutes to go.
Ulster continued to battle and Leinster were finally penalised and a yellow card for lock Josh Murphy with a minute to go presented one last opportunity for the visitors - and from a second scrum replacement scrumhalf Johnny Stewart went in for one final consolation try.
Johnston added the extras to finish an incredible game 54-42.
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Tommy O’Brien, Robbie Henshaw, Cian Kelleher, Harry Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Peter Dooley, Seán Cronin, Andrew Porter, Scott Fardy (CAPT), Josh Murphy, Will Connors, Scott Penny, Max Deegan.
Replacements: (all used) Bryan Byrne, Cian Healy, Jack Aungier, Oisín Dowling, Josh van der Flier, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ciarán Frawley, Conor O’Brien.
Ulster: Rob Lyttle, Craig Gilroy, Matt Faddes, Angus Curtis, Angus Kernohan, Bill Johnston, David Shanahan; Andrew Warwick, Adam McBurney, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor, Alan O’Connor (CAPT), Matthew Rea, Nick Timoney, Greg Jones.
Replacements: (all used) John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Ross Kane, Jack Regan, Azur Allison, Jonny Stewart, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy.