Leinster produced a superb defensive performance to beat Ulster 27-5 and claim their third successive PRO14 title in Dublin on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
Hosting the PRO14 final for the second time in a row, Leinster produced another championship performance to make their own piece of history in the competition – becoming the first team to claim three successive titles. For Leinster, it was a case of job done, as the team will be turning their attention to a tough European quarter-final against Saracens next weekend.
It was a victory largely built on the strength of their defence. Leo Cullen’s side completely and utterly suffocated their opponents, forcing them into predictable decisions and ultimately forcing them into errors which would decide the outcome of the match.
Ulster made a dream start when James Hume crossed the tryline after just three minutes, but really lacked the composure to finish their chances when they came. Ulster coach Dan McFarland would have been frustrated with his team’s discipline after their bright start, as it allowed Leinster to work their way back into the game.
The title challengers had their opportunities in the first half, but Leinster defended their tryline extremely well, maintaining a good linespeed and enforcing the turnovers when it mattered.
Despite conceding early, Leinster quickly regathered their composure and hit straight back when an excellent baseline pass from scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park allowed James Lowe to canter in from close range. They were able to take a 10-5 lead into the break thanks to a conversion and penalty from Ross Byrne.
Springbok flank Marcell Coetzee’s effort was felt in the first half as he made the most carries of any player (nine) while also completing all of his tackles. Unfortunately, Ulster’s No 8 was substituted just seven minutes into the second half as coach Dan McFarland made a raft of changes to refresh his team.
Leinster were quickest out the blocks in the second half as Byrne slotted his second penalty before Robbie Henshaw intercepted Billy Burns’ pass and sprinted clear to score. It was a one-two punch that Ulster never really recovered from as it gave the visitors a mountain to climb against a team that was giving very little in terms of defence.
Ulster should be given credit for not completely folding from there on and getting out of jail with a couple of turnover penalties on their own tryline. However, with eight minutes to go, the knockout blow was laid as Caelan Doris forced his way over the tryline with another strong carry.
It was well deserved for a player who more than brought his own to Leinster’s cause, making 16 tackles, 11 of those in the first half.
Leinster – Tries: James Lowe, Robbie Henshaw, Caelan Doris. Conversions: Ross Byrne (3). Penalties: Byrne (2).
Ulster – Tries: James Hume.
Leinster – 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Garry Ringrose (c ), 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Scott Fardy, 20 Will Connors, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 Rory O’Loughin.
Ulster – 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Rob Lyttle, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Matthew Rea, 5 Iain Henderson (c), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Subs: 16 John Andrew, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Nick Timoney.