ULSTER 17 LEINSTER 13
Ulster won their final game of the Guinness PRO12 campaign with this derby success over Leinster, but it mattered nothing in the final placings for the home side.
Although there was a mathematical chance Ulster could still make the Championship play-offs, this game was more about giving the home support something to cheer about after a disappointing season.
And there were plenty of sideshows going on which ensured the sell out Irish derby was an occasion to remember.
For Leinster, defeat meant they finished second, but they had already secured home advantage in the semi-finals and will now meet Scarlets. Munster finished top of the regular league season standings and will meet Ospreys in the second semi-final in two weeks time.
Both Ulster’s Roger Wilson and Ruan Pienaar took centre stage at the packed Belfast venue as they made thier last competitive appearances for Ulster.
Wilson set a new appearance record at 221, the big number eight retiring at the end of the season.
The ovation for Pienaar was as expected, entering the pitch with his son Jean Luc, before captain Andrew Trimble led the rest of the troops out for the long awaited Irish derby clash.
It was league leaders Leinster hwo took the lead, outhalf Joe Careberry knocking over a simple penalty after Alan O’Connor was pinged for a high tackle.
But after some indifferent performances in recent weeks, Ulster began to gain the upper hand and deservedly took the lead on nine minute with a try through Wilson, Paddy Jackson converting.
Carberry missed a 19th minute penalty chance, but did find his range again on 26 minutes to make it a one point game.
Ulster continued to dominate and a late penalty effort from Jackson sent them in 10-6 ahead at the break.
Ulster continued to press early in the second half, and even with thier lineout completely disfunctioning, they reamined on top.
Wave after wave of pressure was repelled by Leinster, but when all seemed lost, a lovely short crossfield kick from Pienaar landed in the arms of captain Trimble and he dotted down in the corner.
Jackson converted from the touchline and the lead was 17-6.
Leinster produced this best patch of the game immediately afterwards. They looked to have got over for a try, but it was deemed held up after TMO.
However, the blues came again and after three straight penalties a third scrum trundeld forwards, Ulster broke their bind and the penalty try was awarded with Carberry slotting over to put four points between the sides with 19 minutes still remaining.
Wilson and Pieanar received the ovations as expected when withdrawn on 62 and 69 minutes, but the focus was very much on the game as Leinster tried to turn things around and secured first place in the league standings.