SPARE a thought for the poor person who has the task of cleaning the Leinster silverware because the Dublin club earned their third cup of the season yesterday at the RDS in Joe Schmidt’s final match as coach.
Scorers: Ulster: Pens: Pienaar 6. Leinster: Tries: Jennings, Heaslip. Con: Sexton. Pens: Sexton 5.
Referee: J Lacey (IRFU). Attendance: 18,500.
Leinster have already claimed the Amlin Challenge Cup to sit alongside the British and Irish Cup, which their reserve team lifted recently, and they added the RaboDirect trophy to an already crowded cabinet. After losing three consecutive league finals, they never really looked like failing at the fourth attempt.
The match was marred by a slew of penalties against both sides. Ruan Pienaar kicked all of Ulster’s points with a flawless six from six but Leinster were worthy winners after claiming the only two tries of the match, one in each half.
The match threw up another headache for Lions coach Warren Gatland, who had already seen one of his hookers, Dylan Hartley, red carded at Twickenham although if Rory Best does get the call it can only strengthen the Lions squad. Fullback Rob Kearney never made it on the field after completing his warm up, with Ica Nacewa filling the No.15 shirt from the off in his last appearance before retiring.
Leinster were 10-0 up after just seven minutes. Jonny Sexton kicked a couple of penalties into the corner and from the second lineout the men in blue earned the simplest of tries with a catch and drive, Shane Jennings the last man up. Sexton knocked over the conversion and added three penalties in the first half. It could have been four, such was Ulster’s indiscipline.
While the white shirts could not complain about the many penalties they conceded, they will argue that referee John Lacey should have awarded a penalty try after they got the nudge on the Leinster set scrum five metres out. Twice Ulster edged towards the line and twice Leinster dropped the scrum. When the defending side did the same thing for a third time Lacey could have gone to the posts but instead he allowed play to continue and Leinster won a turnover.
All Ulster could manage in the first half were two penalties from Pienaar but the ten-point half-time gap would have been closer if Robbie Diack had dived for the Leinster line rather than stepping inside the cover defence, a move that allowed Sexton to wriggle under the ball.
He compounded his error in the second half by earning a yellow card and gifting Sexton another three points. Leinster earned the first points of the period but Pienaar’s boot was called into action three times in ten minutes which narrowed the gap to just four points.
That was as close as it got. Sexton knocked over yet another penalty and while Ulster defended the drive, Jamie Heaslip squeezed the ball over the Ulster line several plays later.
Pienaar kicked one more monster penalty to give his side some hope and, trailing by six, he must have been tempted to take another three when Ulster were awarded another penalty with five minutes remaining. Instead he kicked for touch and Ulster went looking for the converted try that would have won the match. It never arrived. Leinster earned the turnover and fittingly it was Brian O’Driscoll who kicked the ball out to end the game.
Spare a thought too for Mike O’Connor. The Australian coach is moving from Leicester Tigers to take over Schmidt’s job at Leinster next season and he has a hell of an act to follow.
Ulster: Payne; Trimble, Cave, Olding, Bowe; Jackson, Pienaar; Court (Black 72 in), Best, Afoa, Muller (c), Tuohy, Diack (Henderson 64), Henry, Williams.
Leinster: Nacewa; McFadden, O’Driscoll, Madigan, Conway; Sexton, Boss; Healy (McGrath 76), Strauss, Ross (Hagan 74), Cullen (c), Toner (Roux 72), McLaughlin, Jennings, Heaslip.