It’s often the most anticipated match over the Christmas period, when two old interpro rivals go head to head. However it was one fixture to forget for Ulster as their disappointing display against Leinster on Monday afternoon saw them fall to sixth in the table after losing 30 – 13 to a much stronger side.
With the International players rested under the IRFU Player Management Scheme, there were a number of changes to the team who defeated Bath in their Heineken Cup clash.
Two minutes into the game and Leinster had the first opportunity to put a score on the board when Dan Tuohy was penalised for holding on to the ball. Isa Nacewa immediately opted for the posts but his kick fell just short. Two minutes later Simon Danielli was penalised for the same offence and Leinster took the decision to kick to touch.
Ulster won the line-out but a mistimed pass from Adam D’Arcy to Craig Gilroy handed possession back to their old rivals. After winning the resulting line-out, Leinster moved towards Ulsters’ 22 and after a series of good recycled ball, Sean O’Brien stormed past a number of missed tackles to touch down under the posts on seven minutes. Nacewa added the conversion to increase his teams’ early lead. Ulster 0 Leinster 7.
Leinster continued to dominate play and possession and 15 minutes into the game, O’Brien scored his second try of the night after feeding off a pass from Isaac Boss. Nacewa’s conversion was on target again, taking his side 14 points clear of the home side. Ulster 0 Leinster 14.
As the second quarter got underway, a Leinster infringement in front of their own posts, allowed Ulster to try and narrow the points’ gap. With Ian Humphreys ruled out of the squad due to an injury, Niall O’Connor was assigned kicking duties for the match and he slotted over his first kick of the night. Ulster 3 Leinster 14.
Twenty eight minutes played and Nacewa opted to kick for goal again after Chris Henry was penalised at the breakdown. He easily slotted over his penalty attempt, bringing the score to Ulster 3 Leinster 17.
Three minutes later however, and O’Connor jumped on a Leinster infringement and retaliated with a penalty of his own. Ulster 6 Leinster 17.
With play slowing down and the first half coming to an end, another infringement from Ulster – this time from Pedrie Wannenberg – at the breakdown allowed Nacewa another opportunity to add to his points’ tally. He continued his excellent form of kicking giving his side a safe lead going into half time. Ulster 6 Leinster 20.
Ten minutes into the second half of the interpro fixture and it was Leinster again who were first to put points on the board when Nacewa slotted over another penalty after Ulster infringed at the breakdown in front of their posts. Ulster 6 Leinster 23.
After Adam D’Arcy was accused of deliberately knocking the ball on, Leinster were awarded the lineout metres from Ulster’s try line and despite Ulster defending well over a number of phases, Shane Horgan moved to the right wing where he waited for Boss’s pass before touching down into the corner. Once again, Nacewa added the extras from a tricky conversion, stretching Leinster’s lead to 24 points. Ulster 6 Leinster 30.
As Ulster began to use their bench, the team upped their intensity and Craig Gilroy and Nevin Spence did well to cut inside the Leinster defence. After moving across the field, Gilroy touched down in the right corner on 70 minutes, to score his fifth try for Ulster in just three games. The conversion was at an awkward angle, but O’Connor landed his kick, lessening the points’ gap slightly. Ulster 13 Leinster 30.
With their newfound determination, Ulster continued to dominate play and push the opposition back into their own half. As the final minutes approached, Ulster were mere yards from Leinster’s try line and it looked like the home side were going to land a second try in as many minutes. However, a long pass from Luke Marshall to Gilroy was read well by Nacewa and he managed to intercept the pass. Luckily for Ulster, the referee called it as a knock on, signalling the end of the match and a win for the Dublin team.
Full-time score: Ulster 13 Leinster 30
Thoughts on the game?
I’ve more negatives than positives to report after this game, so I’ll start with the bad.
Majorly disappointed with the performance from Ulster yesterday. Where was the game plan? Was there even a game plan? If there was, it would appear the team didn’t know what it was.
Okay, so maybe the team didn’t completely fold when O’Brien scored his two tries in quick succession and they didn’t concede too many more tries, but there was still no intensity or desire from the Ulster team to get moving and try to get some points on the board themselves. They didn’t look like they were ever going to score yesterday – even if they continued to play past the 80 minutes. To me, it seemed the team were still on their Christmas holidays.
No imagination, no flare, no creative spark, nothing from the backs. It was very much one-dimensional, too predictable and a serious lack of a skills coach didn’t go unnoticed by the Ravenhill faithful.
It was good to see McLaughlin using his bench earlier, however it was still too little, too late and a couple of his replacements were slightly strange, i.e Tim Barker replacing Robbie Diack? Personally, I felt a more important change needed to come at half time – which, if it had occurred, could have changed the outcome of the game, or at least made the final score slightly more flattering towards Ulster.
A few of the more prominent players appeared to leave the field with injuries yesterday as well – I hope none of them are too serious, as Ulster will need them for the next few games.
The final ten minutes of the match provided Ulster with the best ten minutes of their game. I put this down to a couple of replacements that were brought onto the field which helped the game to flow better.
Both players and management need to look back at the tape and the performance this week as they head into the Munster game. To go back to the old adage, if it’s broken – fix it!
So far, I have laid the blame for the poor performances, with the players, as they are ultimately the ones out on the pitch for those 80 minutes. However, if you are being coached on what type of game to play in certain conditions and it goes wrong, who should the blame lie with? The players or the management?
I will finish off my thoughts with a couple of positives though. It was great to see Ravenhill packed yesterday and a good contingent of Leinster supporters who had travelled down for the game were in fantastic spirit before the game had even begun.
Also, well done to all the supporters who turned out on Boxing Day to clear snow off the pitch. The pitch looked great yesterday and despite the less than favourable result, your efforts were much appreciated.