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Leinster player ratings vs Ulster | 2023 Champions Cup round-of-16

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Leinster player ratings live from Aviva Stadium: From green to blue with another visiting team beaten in Dublin – life is rather rosy right now for these Ireland and Leinster players. Fresh from collecting the Guinness Six Nations title a fortnight ago, 10 starters from that Irish Grand Slam match and three more from that game’s Test bench went back at it in search of more glory as part of a star-studded Leinster XV.

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Only Jordan Larmour and Ross Molony were surplus to Andy Farrell’s requirement when England were clipped on March 18, but they were tasked here by Leo Cullen with stepping up and helping to demonstrate that this is the year where the stars have seemingly aligned for the No1-ranked Irish province.

Having rounded off their pool effort with the January win that eliminated Racing, their 2018 final opponents in Bilbao, their route to the top has three knockout games at the Aviva Stadium followed by the final at the very same ground pencilled in across eight weekends.

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First up were local rivals Ulster, with a quarter-final spot versus Leicester next Friday night up for grabs, and despite being short the injured pair of Johnny Sexton and Caelan Doris, Leinster eventually won an intriguing civil war 30-15.

There was no need for behind-the-goal water slides, sideline dancers and all the other off-pitch entertainment seen from the earlier-in-the-day round-of-16 games in South Africa. Here, all eyes at the packed-out stadium on a murky April Fool’s Day were on the spicy, splish-splash rugby that unfolded, a cracking old-school winter conditions-type affair.

There was a try apiece in the engaging opening period, Ulster’s James Hume replying seven minutes after Ryan Baird’s 20th-minute opener, but the boot of Ross Byrne had Leinster 16-8 ahead on the back of an eight-four penalty count weighted against the northerners.

The nip-and-tuck championship minutes then followed on the restart and it was Ulster who ultimately cracked, Hume’s yellow card generating the space for the scrambling Jamison Gibson-Park to exploit when scooping up a loose pass.

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That converted try had Leinster 15 points clear but Ulster weren’t yet finished, quickly grabbing a Rob Herring try back off a maul before Andrew Porter restored a double-scores 30-15 advantage with his converted close-range effort on 63 with Hume still away.

The errant midfielder came back, but Ulster were soon reduced to 14 again as sub Harry Sheridan incurred the wrath of referee Luke Pearce to end their hopes of a recovery. It wasn’t an overly swashbuckling display by the host team’s usual stylish all-court standards, but they toughed it out impressively to be fully deserving winners. Here are the Leinster player ratings:

15. Hugo Keenan – 6
Failed a HIA two weeks ago when clattered by the red-carded Freddie Steward, it was his eighth-minute knock-on that stoked Ulster optimism as it was the genesis for the visitors’ short-lived lead, an example of how that was far from his usual polished display.

14. Jordan Larmour – 5
One of the current two non-Test players in the XV, he had very limited involvement. Penalised for a needless push when chasing an early kick, but hit back with an aerial win on halfway before the rest of the contest bypassed him.

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13. Jimmy O’Brien – 5.5
Filled the position vacated by the injured Garry Ringrose but had few chances to impress. Held up over the line during the result-deciding second-half period after some neat footwork wasn’t matched by his hands for a grounding.

12. Robbie Henshaw – 6
An injury-hit Ireland campaign gave way to him scoring the try that fractured England’s resistance, but this was a more awkward affair. An early second-half dunt nearly curtailed his presence, but he came through and had a bizarre ‘assist’ for the Gibson-Park try with his pass going loose, forcing his scrum-half to brilliantly improvise.

11. James Lowe – 6
His big boot in making defensive clearances was a huge feature but he was suckered when Ulster returned a punt with interest, Jacob Stockdale making a catch and then a follow-up Billy Burns kick exposed Lowe’s positioning. Was much more vigilant and reliable after that.

10. Ross Byrne – 7.5
In the spotlight with Sexton laid up, he didn’t disappoint thanks to some help from his inside man Gibson-Park. Booted to the first-half skies regularly rather than go the passing route in the damp conditions, he showed pluck when successfully testing himself with the difficult shot on 26 minutes from an angle on the 10-metre following a Tom O’Toole maul infringement. Crucially finished four from five off the tee for 11 first-half points. Was then more prominent with the hands in the second half before two more conversions helped to see his side home despite the wobble that was his overcooked restart after the Herring try.

9. Jamison Gibson-Park – 8
Another who endured an injury-hit Six Nations, he was very busy giving his Leinster forwards momentum with his wristy passing against an obdurate opponent. That energy was at its very best when scoring on 54 minutes, having the composure to take a few steps backwards after scooping up the loose ball before giving Stockdale the slip and then beating the other cover to slide in under the posts.

1. Andrew Porter – 8
Another bundle of energy, his scrum penalty win on halfway was the spark for the opening Baird try attack off the resulting lineout. Won’t want to see his 43rd-minute knock-on again, the ball behaving like a bar of soap, but his well-finished try from close-range ended the battle on 63.

2. Dan Sheehan – 7.5
One of the most watchable on-the-ball forwards across the Six Nations, this was a greasy day with a greater opening emphasis on his tackling than carrying. All eight first-half throws worked out and he was then class when back-peddling to tidy up a Stuart McCloskey grubber on the resumption. After that, his evasive carrying came to the fore and it was his tapped penalty from five metres that was the gambit for the Porter settler.

3. Tadhg Furlong – 7
Still not fully back to his world-class best in everything he contributes, but he left proceedings on the high note of the Porter try shortly after he fabulously horsed into an Ulster scrum on halfway to win a crucial momentum-taking penalty.

4. Ross Molony – 7.5
Doesn’t have the glittering CV of his teammates, but he has an admirable work rate that again highlighted how he isn’t at all out of place in this Leinster set-up.

5. James Ryan – 8
Led his forwards the way they needed to be led on a very tricky evening. His highlights were the 46th-minute lineout steal with Ulster camped in the Leinster 22, and he later charged down a John Cooney clearance down the other end.

6. Ryan Baird – 8.5
Ravenous for involvement. Having showcased his lock Test-level credentials, he was a dab hand starting here at blindside. Was excellently physical in breaking contact to smartly finish his 20th-minute try. Another grand moment was his turnover penalty win at the start of the second period.

7. Josh van der Flier – 6.5
Not the 2022 world player of the year’s finest hour, but he was gritty where he needed to be before an injury forced him off with 25 minutes remaining.

8. Jack Conan – 7.5
Will have cursed himself for spilling the ball with the line at his mercy near the interval, but more than made up for it with his immensely improved second-half work rate. It was his second carry in the same move that crucially tempted the yellow-carded interference from Hume that helped tilt the scoreboard balance.

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