Fergus McFadden and Jordan Larmour scored braces while Barry Daly and Johnny Sexton completed a 38-7 rout in favour of Leinster over Ulster in the Guinness PRO14.
In what was an ice cold evening at the RDS, I struggle to decide whether this tops the match in Galway as Ulster’s worst performance in recent memory.
Ulster were comprehensively outplayed in every facet of the game and couldn’t have made a worse start. Within five minutes of the game kicking off, Leinster had carved Ulster open for the first try. Ulster’s centres bought the dummy line posed by Leinster’s Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw while a defensive mis-read from Andrew Trimble allowed Fergus McFadden a clean break with Jordan Larmour on hand to score the try.
Struggling to gain any reasonable possession in the opening fifteen minutes, Ulster were forced to defend inside their own 10m line and conceded a second try. Barry Daly beat Charles Piutau on the outside to score in the corner. Ross Byrne was unable to add the extras but, at 12-0, it gave Leinster an unassailable lead.
Ulster’s two ventures into the Leinster half were short-lived as unforced errors halted any momentum that the attack created. On the other hand, Leinster looked dangerous and were clinical on every line break they made. Ulster’s best chance in the first half came from a missed Jacob Stockdale intercept on his own 22m line.
Ulster’s best passage of possession of the first half came five minutes before the interval. Making good headway into the Leinster 22m line, Ulster were unable to get the ball to the right flank quick enough where there was an overlap. Ulster’s misery in the first half was almost compounded in the last play when Jordan Larmour knocked on in goal after a stray Ulster pass in midfield.
Leinster continued their impressive performance at the start of the second half and the third try was scored seven minutes later. The home side capitalized on the overlap allowing Fergus McFadden to step Jacob Stockdale for the score. McFadden added his second score three minutes later after Darren Cave was stripped of the ball inside the Leinster 22m line. Again, simply fixing the Ulster defenders was enough to add Leinster’s bonus point try.
As the match was over as a contest, Les Kiss emptied the bench allowing Johnny McPhillips a run out. The Leinster pressure continued and Ulster struggled to keep up with the tempo the home side were playing at. In truth Ulster barely tested the Leinster defence all night. Instead, even against a stiff breeze, the home side continued to press and scored a fifth try through Jordan Larmour.
Johnny McPhillips provided a burst with ten minutes to go which came to nothing however Stockdale scored to salvage an ounce of pride when Tommy Bowe ran a penetrating line but it was all too late.
Fundamental errors in both defence and attack earned Ulster a hammering at their closest rivals. Leinster exploited the colossal gap between Darren Cave and his winger allowing their outside backs to make huge yards. In attack, Ulster were pedestrian and struggled to get Leinster’s impressive blitz defence on the back foot. To add salt to the wounds, Johnny Sexton strolled over in the final play of the game as Leinster ran out comprehensive 38-7 winners.
Jonny Stewart was thrown into a tough match for his first start. While it was an extremely disappointing performance, Stewart provided one of Ulster’s few line breaks in the first half. Likewise, the appearance of Johnny McPhillips towards the end of the match provided an attacking ray of light.
The Ulster faithful were promised a ‘reaction’ after the grilling in Galway but had to wait until the second half against Munster until they received one. Another reaction is expected but I struggle to see when it will come as Ulster enter a testing European double header off the back of an unconfident series of interprovincial matches. Both La Rochelle and Wasps will be licking their lips at the thought of Ulster’s passive defensive display.