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Ulster hand Leinster New Year shock in Dublin

By PA
A dejected Harry Byrne at the final whistle after failing to find touch with the final kick of the game.

Ulster started 2024 with a bang by beating BKT United Rugby Championship leaders Leinster 22-21 for only their third win in 22 visits to the RDS Arena.

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Billy Burns’ right boot was at its creative best, setting up tries for Nick Timoney (2) and Jacob Stockdale as Ulster deservedly led 19-14 at half-time.

Leinster, who had two late withdrawals in captain James Ryan and Jimmy O’Brien, crossed through Cian Healy and Rob Russell to erase an initial 12-point deficit.

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A John Cooney penalty put Ulster into a 22-14 advantage, and despite Dan Sheehan replying from a maul, a territorially-dominant Leinster could not avoid their first defeat since the opening weekend of the season.

Taking a leaf out of Sale’s book, Burns deftly kicked in behind the rush defence. Timoney gathered the ball, beat Russell’s attempted tackle and slid over despite Ciaran Frawley’s challenge.

Following Cooney’s conversion, Timoney and Stuart McCloskey were soon flooding forward again in atrociously wet conditions. Leinster’s defence was exposed by another Burns kick, giving Stockdale a comfortable run-in on the left.

Trailing 12-0 early on, the Leinster forwards seized control and Healy crashed over for his 31st try in 270 provincial appearances, which Sam Prendergast converted.

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The table-toppers edged ahead after Prendergast and Tommy O’Brien had put Russell over in the 23rd minute.

Prendergast had reacted quickest to a kick from Jamison Gibson-Park that bounced back off the crossbar, and the 20-year-old fly-half also converted with aplomb.

However, five minutes before the interval, Luke Marshall and Tom O’Toole both carried well before Burns’ cross-field kick went over Prendergast’s head and bounced up for Timoney to double his tally.

Cooney curled over a classy conversion and he opened the second half’s scoring with a 55th-minute penalty.#

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Nonetheless, with Ulster’s line-out letting them down, Leinster closed the gap to just 22-21 with a timely try from Sheehan.

Joe McCarthy’s charge-down on Cooney had lifted the hosts beforehand and the newly-introduced Harry Byrne nailed the difficult conversion.

Victorious at the Ballsbridge venue in 2013 and 2021, the Ulstermen knuckled down in defence with Marshall crucially intercepting a Gibson-Park pass.

Replacement Nathan Doak’s inch-perfect kick also forced Frawley to concede a line-out near the Leinster line.

Last beaten at the RDS by the Vodacom Bulls in June 2022, Leinster won a last-gasp scrum penalty, but Byrne overcooked his long-range kick to touch, leaving Ulster to celebrate a famous win.

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