Ulster 26 Leinster 10
The defending Guinness PRO12 champions, Leinster, battled bravely in Belfast on Friday night to keep their slim hopes of a third successive title alive, but in the end they ran out of steam.
Having gone toe-to-toe with European champions, Toulon, last Sunday, Leinster’s weary bodies - the bench having been emptied - had nothing left going into the final quarter of a match they had contested all the way with Ulster.
Two penalties from Ruan Piennar and the conversion to Craig Gilroy’s try finally ended the Leinster resistance in the final quarter.
It was no surprise to see the visitors laying siege to the Ulster line in the dying minutes but the hosts would not give in.
The victory took Ulster top of the table ahead of Glasgow and Munster who both play on Saturday
For Leinster their play-off hopes are probably gone and the PRO12 trophy will change hands this season.
In the opening 10m minutes Leinster had stunned Ulster with a try from Ben Te’o and a Jimmy Gopperth penalty and conversion within the first first seven minutes.
But Ulster sparked into life and a break by outhalf Paddy Jackson eventually led to a try from man of the match Iain Henderson. Ruan Pienaar who had missed an earlier penalty attempt from near half way goaled and then levelled the scores at 10-all with a penalty after 16 minutes.
As the rain began to fall heavily, Sean O’Brien was sent to the sin-bin for a cooling off period after he tip tackled Henderson - there was an argument for it being a straight red - but John Lacey opted for yellow following discussions with the TMO.
Ulster failed to make the numerical advantage count Pienaar missing a penatly before O’Brien returned.
The home side continued to press, but Leinster soaked up the efforts with consumate ease, Ulster’s kicking from hand poor and getting little territorial advantage.
Two minutes from the break Pienaar kicked a penalty to give Ulster a 13-10 lead which they held until the break.
Ulster had the territorial advantage in the opening exchanges of the second half but Leinster had a couple of dangerous breaks. But a kickable penalty opportunity was turned down for touch and Franco van der Merwe turned it over and the initial danger was cleared.
From there Ulster dominated and two penalties from Pienaar on 63 and 66 minutes put daylight between the side during a period when Leinster’s Rob Kearney was in the sin-bin.
For extra insurance Ulster produced a lovely passage of play which saw PRO12 top try scorer, Craig Gilroy, go over on 72 minutes to ignite the Kingspan Stadium. Pienaar converted to make it 26-10.
For the final seven minutes Leinster laid seige to the home line, but Ulster were not budging- in spite of losing replacement Andy Warwick to the bin, and claimed a memorable victory over a side which has caused them a fair share of heart ache in recent years.
For Leinster, the season is as good as over.
Ulster: L Ludik; T Bowe, J Payne, D Cave, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best (capt), W Herbst, D Tuohy, F Van der Merwe, I Henderson, C Henry, R Wilson.
Replacements: R Herring (Best 68), A Warwick (Black 70), B Ross (Herbst 70), R Diack (Tuohy 66), C Ross, P Marshall, I Humphreys, S McCloskey (Cave 52).
Leinster: R Kearney; Z Kirchner, B Te’o, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Gopperth, I Boss; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, D Toner, M McCarthy, S O’Brien, D Ryan, J Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: S Cronin (Strauss 58); J McGrath (, T Furlong, B Marshall (McCarthy 64), J Murphy (Ryan 20), E Reddan (Boss 64), I Madigan (D’Arcy 64), D Fanning.