Ulster head coach Dan McFarland found it hard to find a positive spin after a second consecutive Irish derby loss in the Guinness PRO14, Leinster defeating their Northern rivals 40-7 at the RDS Arena on Saturday night.
The bonus point victory moved defending champions Leinster 19 points clear at the head of Conference B over now second placed side, Edinburgh.
Ulster had started the day in second, but found themselves in fifth place after Edinburgh, Benetton and Scarlets all leapfrogged them after securing respective wins.
The gulf in skill and stength in depth was all too evident as a young Ulster side trailed 26-7 at the break and, aside from defending stoutly in the second half, never threated the hosts throughout the back 40.
Leinster Academy centre Conor O’Brien’s classy solo try and energy around the pitch earned him the man-of-the-match honours in the win, Leinster bouncing back from a loss to Munster in Limerick last weekend
Andrew Porter’s try on the stroke of half-time gave Leinster a 26-7 lead at RDS, with his front row colleague Sean Cronin scoring twice inside the opening 12 minutes.
Hooker Adam McBurney’s lone effort for Ulster was cancelled out by O’Brien’s fourth try in seven PRO14 games.
Leo Cullen’s men wrapped up the result with Jamison Gibson-Park’s 61st-minute snipe and a last-minute penalty try from a dominant scrum.
Ulster made 11 changes to the side which lost at Connacht last weekend - but Leinster had made 14, both Provinces keeping their big guns for next week’s European Champioins Cup pool matches.
Asked if teams had to be at full strength to win down in Dublin, McFarland said: “I’m not going to say inevitable but it’s pretty tough.
“A team like Leinster would cause problems in any league. They average 42 points at home a match and we found that out. They’re at a different stage to where we are. They have a really good understanding of what they’re doing and when they’re firing, playing with tempo, getting quick ball, we just couldn’t live with that. That’s a credit to them and their organisation.
In terms of effort, particularly in the second half from Ulster, McFarland said: “I want to put a positive spin on that, but that’s what I expect every week. W
“e did that against Connacht but we do that every week. We’ll fight for every inch, we’ll play to the end and be strong. We have a battling spirit but that is only going to take us so far. There’s lots to work on. We can demonstrate the positive side of things, but it was disappointing to have to make so many changes and have people out of position. Caleb came on in the second-row, Pete Nelson and Bruce Houston playing out of position, that was difficult.”
Ulster will now face Racing 92 in Pool Four of the Heineken Cup in Belfast on Saturday. It is first against second in the group, Ulster currently five points behind the French side.
Leinster coach Leo Cullen said after the Ulster success: “The result is the result, the performance is more important from our point of view. There were good bits, particularly in the first 20 minutes when our control of the ball was really, really good and Sean Cronin gets in for a couple of tries.
“We concede that try, which is a bit tricky in terms of how we manage that, but the good thing is we hit back straight away. Conor O’Brien gets in for a very good individual try, where he beats a number of defenders and we close out the half well with a classic tighthead try.
“The start of the second half, the first 20 minutes, we can probably be a bit better there in terms of applying more pressure when we’ve got the ball. We just let Ulster off on a couple of occasions when we just didn’t respect possession and gave it away too cheaply. We regather a bit of control and momentum as the half goes on, the last 20 minutes were a bit better. That third quarter can be a bit better.
“Just keep our attention to detail around the basics of the game, which I don’t think we did particularly well. In a closer game, they’ll really hurt you. We didn’t get punished today, got away with a few things I thought, so that’s the thing from our point of view.
“Getting exposure to a full house at the RDS is an amazing experience for them. Sold out early in the week and it’s amazing at this time of year, the support they’re getting is fantastic. It builds us into next week and the next couple of weeks.
“We’ve a big game here next week against Toulouse and we get that atmosphere in the ground and make it difficult for the opposition that comes here,” he added.