Forwards-dominated all-Irish contest goes the way of Leinster
Leinster are the last Irish province standing in the Heineken Champions Cup after handing Ulster a 30-15 last-16 defeat at the Aviva Stadium. A closely-fought first half ended 16-8 in Leinster’s favour, with Ross Byrne converting Ryan Baird’s 20th-minute try and kicking three penalties. James Hume touched down for Ulster to add to a Nathan Doak penalty.
The difficult wet conditions made for a forwards-dominated contest, with repeated team penalties landing Hume in the sin bin before Jamison Gibson-Park sniped over for a 54th-minute try. Rob Herring hit back for Ulster with a big maul score, but Andrew Porter burrowed over in the 63rd minute to seal a home quarter-final for Leinster against Leicester next Friday.
A rare handling error from Hugo Keenan gave Ulster some early traction, and Doak punished a Byrne offside with an opening 10th-minute penalty. The Leinster fly-half levelled barely a minute later, with the keenly-contested aerial battle seeing Keenan and Jordan Larmour come to the fore.
The hosts ended the opening quarter with a 10-3 lead, Ulster initially keeping their maul at bay before Baird came around the corner to beat David McCann and stretch out of Rory Sutherland’s tackle to score. With the conversion and a cracking long-range penalty, Byrne put 10 points between the sides but Ulster halved the deficit in brilliant fashion with 26 minutes gone.
Jacob Stockdale gave them momentum by collecting his own kick at pace, Burns then kicking wide to Hume who had acres of space before stepping inside James Lowe’s tackle to cross in the right corner.
Doak’s missed conversion was followed by a penalty miss from Byrne, who was back on target in the 37th minute. Ulster were happy to see him go for the posts after a Jack Conan try was disallowed for a knock-on. A promising lineout opportunity for Ulster early in the second period was spoiled by a James Ryan steal. Referee Luke Pearce then lost his patience with the visitors infringing near their own line when Hume was binned for no clear release.
Although a prolonged Leinster attack broke down, Gibson-Park scooped up a grounded ball and evaded both Stockdale and Stuart McCloskey to scamper in under the posts. Byrne’s extras made it 23-8.
Ulster’s maul has been a massive weapon this season, and a well-executed drive put Herring over for replacement John Cooney to convert. However, Porter had support from Tadhg Furlong as he restored Leinster’s two-score lead, getting the grounding after Jimmy O’Brien had been held up minutes earlier by McCloskey.
Ulster were unable to get back within scoring range late on, their hopes effectively ended by the replacement Harry Sheridan’s yellow card for a high tackle on Byrne.
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