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Leinster player ratings vs Bulls | URC semi-final

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Leinster player ratings live from The RDS: Exeter boss Rob Baxter sprung to mind in the closing minutes of this shock URC semi-final result in Dublin on Friday night, the Bulls deservedly defeating the odd-on favourites Leinster.

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When asked last week if he held any grievance that his serial finalists Chiefs were seventh and out of the running going into the final round of the Gallagher Premiership, Baxter’s response was crystal. “I’m a huge believer that the league table doesn’t lie. Rugby is a pretty good game in a lot of ways, there aren’t many lucky results,” he explained.

“There is the odd one that can go against you at the end but often the games that go against you at the end are because you really haven’t quite been good enough throughout the other 79 minutes.”

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Battling The Poisonous Welsh Press & An Epic International Comeback | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 37
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His words summed up perfectly what had happened to Leinster in their European final, the trophy understandably taken from their grasp in the closing minutes after too much hanging on to a slender lead. They weren’t unluckily beaten in Marseille, and it was the same takeaway following this latest defeat by the Bulls.

While the 27-26 scoreboard at the finish showed just a point separating the sides, this was no unlucky loss for the hosts as they got what they deserved for trailing from the 19th minute of the match until the finish. As Jake White chirped in the aftermath, “Leinster showed they are human.”

They very much were and the error-strewn fallibility was something Leo Cullen couldn’t ignore when sifting through the wreckage. A bit like Baxter accepting without quibble how Exeter got run out of the English league, the Leinster coach acknowledged the URC shortcomings that materialised for his team rather than reel off some powdery excuses.

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“When you come to semi-finals against top-end teams you need all your players sort of in that eight, nine, ten out of ten in terms of how they play in the game but unfortunately some of us were just not good enough.” RugbyPass could only but agree. Here are the mostly low-numbered Leinster player ratings from a sobering night at the RDS:

15. Jimmy O’Brien – 5
It was on the wing where O’Brien capably earned his corn these past few months and the evidence of this performance is that he isn’t a full-back anywhere in the same postcode as the absent Hugo Keenan. Gave the assist for the Rory O’Loughlin try but was generally too loose, giving up too many turnovers.

14. Jordan Larmour – 5.5
Dazzled last weekend when running riot versus Glasgow but very little glistened here and there was a case to be made that Larmour should have switched into full-back early doors with O’Brien struggling. His burst through the middle from the Robbie Henshaw pass was delicious but that was an anomaly on a night where there were numerous missed tackles. It’s an area of his game that certainly needs improvement – look at the penalty conceded on 67 minutes for poor technique, giving the Bulls an easy out from their 22.

13. Garry Ringrose – 6
It can’t have been easy for him to pick up the thread having been the player most culpable for the decisive La Rochelle score two weekends ago, a situation inflamed last week by the hype suddenly surrounding Ulster’s James Hume ahead of the upcoming Ireland tour. Not renowned for his kicking,  Ringrose demonstrated he has a boot with the kick that sparked the blind panic amongst the Bulls for the opening Leinster try. Also took a great pressure catch 13 minutes from the end as well but that was about the height of his effort.

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12. Robbie Henshaw – 8
A class act for 90-odd per cent of the game. He was the Leinster Red Adair after they lost their way in the opening half, igniting an attack with a swanky pass and then finishing the move some phases later with a brute force pick-and-go from a ruck. Another of his cute passes was pivotal in the second Leinster try on 70 minutes, but it can’t be overlooked that it was his sloppy handling error that started the second half on a bum note for his team, heaping the pressure on them.

11. Rory O’Loughlin – 6
His distractive run played a central part in the comedy that was the Bulls defence for the first Leinster try, and he went on to score their second ten minutes from time. However, similar to O’Brien struggling to cover for Keenan’s absence at full-back, O’Loughlin isn’t in the Jame Lowe mould and he didn’t do enough to convince.

10. Ross Byrne – 5.5
Didn’t bring a running game, settling instead for passing the ball on which was no bad thing with Henshaw bubbling, but his tactical kicking didn’t test the Bulls enough. It’s one thing orchestrating behind a pack that is shredding Glasgow, quite another to wield the required influence in high-stakes affairs such as this and when he came on as a sub against La Rochelle and was also found wanting. Was given a wincing welcome when put on his backside by a Canan Moodie tackle early on, going on to manage 54 minutes before Johnny Sexton was summoned with the score at 14-24.

9. Jamison Gibson-Park – 6
This was the second time in three games we got to witness a different side to Gibson-Park, one where he wasn’t provided with a silver service by his pack and where slow ball made him a target for some testing attention he couldn’t escape. The disappointing consequence was he rarely if ever ran with the ball and he was hooked on 66. Busy in defence, though, with a first-half try-saving tackle on Marcell Coetzee particularly eye-catching.

1. Andrew Porter – 6
There are days when the feeling is that Porter is the jack of all trades and the master of none and this was one such occasion. Started with a penalty win at a scrum but with Leinster soon coming under scoreboard pressure, he wound up taking on an onerous across-the-board workload that didn’t allow him to stand out in the best aspects of his game. Was worryingly asked to last 79 minutes, hard gruel when the tank empties quicker for props.

2. Dan Sheehan – 7.5
If the length of Porter’s appearance left you questioning the depth of this Leinster squad when it comes to the end-of-season big-time, the sight of the hooker going the full 80 only added to the bemusement that the cover isn’t as quite up to scratch as you’d be led to believe. Will be annoyed that a number of lineouts weren’t gathered by his jumpers but his efforts elsewhere were tasty. Made more metres in the carry than any of his fellow forwards, scored the opening try and was also just shy of making 20 energy-sapping tackles. A workhorse and yet he can’t be happy that Johan Grobbelaar, his opposite number, was the semi-final man of the match.

3. Tadhg Furlong – 5.5
Hasn’t been the same since hobbling off at the Aviva last month in the Euro semi-final win over Toulouse. He began like an express train that day but whether his ankle is still dodgy or his back isn’t up to scratch, his work rate has rapidly shot downwards and he hasn’t been himself in recent performances. Two passes in 51 minutes highlighted how limited a contribution he had.

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4. Joe McCarthy – 6
It’s curious how this rookie has been thrust front-of-house in recent weeks given that the player he replaced, Ross Molony, had been the unsung hero of the Leinster season until they collectively wilted in the Euro decider in Marseille. This was another enormous eye-opener for him, facing another opposition exuding a level of bullying that was new to him. Helped the first-half Leinster chargeback with the carry to the ruck that set up Henshaw’s score, but he won’t want to be reminded about his last involvement, sucking air as the Bulls struck for their penalty try off a monster lineout drive.

5. James Ryan – 5.5
Another who will be restless thinking about that rampaging Bulls score off the set-piece, his pain was much worse than McCarthy’s as he was yellow-carded for the offence that left the referee running over to the posts to signal the score. It was penalties from Ryan that gave Glasgow a fleeting sniff last weekend before the floodgates opened and his effort here can’t escape critical scrutiny either as he was out-grunted when it mattered most.

6. Caelan Doris – 6
Was in the 20s with his tackle count, defiance epitomised by his dexterity in preventing the Bulls from scoring from the pressure instigated by Henshaw’s cheap knock-on at the start of the second half. That try-saver would have been richly celebrated post-game if Leinster had won. Instead, there will be a focus on the penalty trouble Doris encountered at the breakdown where the South Africans were a bloody nuisance.

7. Josh van der Flier – 7
Credited with 24 tackles by the statisticians, he was in his chopping element for most of his night. It’s cruel to then think it was his penalty concession for a poor high tackle that handed the Bulls the invite to kick to the 22 and launch their monster penalty try maul.

8. Jack Conan – 6
He was defiant, for sure, his high tackle count illustrating how he didn’t shirk putting in a defensive shift to try and demobilise the Bulls. However, his effectiveness on the ball was an area where he was critically eclipsed by his opposite number Elrigh Louw, who checked in with double the number of metres carried.

Replacements:
18. Michael Ala’alatoa (for Furlong, 51); 22. Johnny Sexton (for Byrne), 19. Ross Molony (for McCarthy, both 54); 21. Luke McGrath (for Gibson-Park, 66); 20. Rhys Ruddock (for Conan, 70); 23. Ciaran Frawley (for O’Loughlin, 77); 17. Cian Healy (for Porter, 79); 16. Sean Cronin (not used).

Leinster will be disappointed with their bench. Veteran Sexton isn’t someone who knows the score coming on as a replacement, he either starts or he shouldn’t be involved at all, and he exhibited poor leadership in twice sticking penalties into the corner instead of shooting at the posts with a ten-point margin to catch up.

Molony, another European final starter, was way off the boil, missing one of those crucial lineout catches and then conceding the stupid penalty that allowed Morne Steyn to reopen a two-score, eight-point lead.

Ala’alatoa doesn’t consistently impress enough when it most matters, McGrath and Ruddock’s best days are behind them as are Healy’s. The clock was in the red when the sub prop scored and the lack of clout he now wields was summed up by Porter trucking it for 79 minutes in a contest that needed a burst of real late energy from somewhere.

Frawley was another token introduction while the retiring Cronin didn’t even get a cameo, being left unused on the bench. It begged the question of how strong the Leinster strength in depth really is when it comes to these end-of-the-season matches where the team must perform for the full 80 or pay a heavy price. This was twice in the space of just 13 days that their backup cavalry was found wanting.

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