This match panned out pretty much as expected. A spirited effort from Ulster’s youngsters was ultimately annulled by Leinster’s continuity, with the Dublin side easing clear in the final quarter of the game. The score-sheet shows six tries to one in favour of the home side but, despite the score, the Ravens showed enough to turn a questioning spotlight on the cowardly capitulation of the coaching staff before a ball was kicked.
With the Ravens forcing their way into the game in the second half, with a well taken try by Chris Cochrane, it’s a pity that Ulster didn’t have some experience to bring off the bench to push for at least a losing bonus. The misguided decision to leave the likes of Afoa, Best, Cave, Faloon, Ferris, Gilroy, Henry, Humphreys, Jackson, Muller, Pienaar, Spence, Terblanche, Trimble, Tuohy, Wannenburg and Whitten at home with their feet up was a damning statement of the lack of belief the coaching staff have in their charges.
Ignoring the availability, or lack thereof, of the Irish front-line players there is no justification for why the experienced, and handsomely paid, Muller, Pienaar, Afoa, Terblanche (all who have played comparatively little rugby so far this season) or Wannenburg wern’t sitting on the bench to come on for a fifteen minute cameo at the end of the game when Leinster were clearly rattled. World domination my arse, the management obviously thought that that the youngsters would be out of it by that stage.
As it was, it could have been a one point game going into the final quarter as this was far from a vintage performance from Leinster. The Raven’s started the game well, full of commitment and ably led by Bradey and Diack who put their bodies on the line countless times. Leinster looked to have crossed the line a couple of times, through the posturing Healy and the impressive Auva’a but Healy was stripped by Michael Allen over the line, much to my amusement, and Peter Nelson got himself under Auva’a holding him up when a try looked certain.
Black and Macklin were giving the Irish front-liners of Healy and Ross a good working over in the scrum and were unlucky not to see at least one of the Leinster props carded with Ross particularly poor, giving away four penalties in the first half. It should have been six and a ten minute rest if the ref had the courage of his convictions. Leinster did, however, dominate the breakdown and showed much better continuity with ball in hand and after sustained pressure in the Ulster half the home side eventually crossed the line through Fionn Carr afer 18 minutes.
The Ravens lost the experienced Barker shortly after and Leinster scored again on 25 minutes with Cronin going over in the corner. Despite these set backs and playing into a strong wind, the Ravens looked to be growing into the game, thanks to their disruptive defence and solid scrum. James McKinney made amends for an early miss, slotting over two penalty chances and it looked like Ulster would be taking the 14 – 6 scoreline into the break to turn round with the elements in their favour.
Unfortunately a wrong footed Diack, who had a commanding game otherwise, let Auva’a through for a soft try two minutes past time and the teams turned round wtih the Ravens trailing 21 – 6 but still well in the game.
With the wind at their backs the Ravens upped the tempo in the second half and eight minutes after the restart Chris Cochrane scored a fine try bursting through four tacklers to dot down close to the posts for McKinney to convert for 21 -13 and the Ravens looked well set to push on and cause an extraordinary upset. The Ulster youngsters in the back line sparkled when they got some ball and were unlucky not to go over for a second try after a great break by Nelson was moved on by Chris Farrell and Conor Gaston. Unfortunately the return pass to Nelson failed to go to hand but the time was right for Ulster to bring some experience off the bench with the game in the balance with twenty to go.
However, it was Leinster that made the changes and after a series of dubious scrums close to the Ravens line the ref took the easy option of awarding a penalty try rather than carding Ross for boring in, giving Leinster their bonus point in the process.
The Ravens responded by bringing on more youngsters when experienced heads were called for and Leinster ran in two more tries, through Madigan and Hagan, in the closing minutes giving Leinster a deserved if somewhat flattering 42 – 13 win.
Ulster (15-9): Peter Nelson, Chris Cochrane, Michael Allen, Chris Farrell, Conor Gaston, James McKinney, Paul Marshall. (1-8): Callum Black, Nigel Brady (capt), Adam Macklin, Tim Barker, Lewis Stevenson, Neil McComb, Ali Birch, Robbie Diack. (16-23): Niall Annett, Jerry Cronin, Tom Court, James Simpson, Conor Joyce, Ian Porter, Stuart Olding, Ricky Andrew.
Leinster (15-9): Luke Fitzgerald, David Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Gordon D’Arcy, Fionn Carr, Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan. (1-8): Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Damian Browne, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Leo Auva’a. (16-23): Richardt Strauss, Jack McGrath, Jamie Hagan, Steven Sykes, Rhys Ruddock, Isaac Boss, Eoin O’Malley, Andrew Conway.
|The Front Row Review.|
I was rung up a couple of hours before the game asking me what I thought of the 27 point spread in favour of Ulster. I said that it was pretty much on the money with the youngsters remaining competitive till the final quarter when Leinster would pull away and that’s pretty much what we got.
The youngsters performed well and certainly there was no lack of commitment, had their chances to do better but also gave away a couple of soft tries. Fortunately the experience will do them no harm and they should take away a great deal of confidence from the game but in that respect it was a no lose situation, or should that be no win situation, the only downside being the lack of belief the Ulster management had in their ability to produce a result by failing to provide an option of bringing on experienced players in the final quarter. Don’t want to single out any of the players as I thought they were all excellent under the circumstances.
Whether it was a pragmatic or cowardly decision to send down a Ravens side bereft of any front line players is yet to be seen but my opinion is that it was a missed opportunity by Ulster to record at least a point and it was a continued slight on the PRO12 League as a competition and a telling insight into the lack of regard that the management have for the squad as a whole.
Of course if Ulster win their next four games it will be hailed as a magnificent piece of man management but to me it shows a worrying lack of ambition. It’s all if’s and but’s at this stage but how much different it could have been if the likes of Muller, Wannenburg, Terblanche and Pienaar were available to come on for those final twenty to provide the leadership and nous for a losing bonus or god forbid a sneaky win as Leinster were clearly rattled.
Real mixed feelings over this one. Delighted that no one let them selves down, in fact most enhanced their reputation despite the score line. However it’s tinged with disappointment that we declared ourselves also rans, effectively unable to compete on two fronts. Wheter we can even compete on one has yet to be seen.
You can view the full match here on BBC iPlayer or view Cochrane’s try in the sidebar video. Thanks, as always, to Rooster for doing the video edit.