Ulster got off to a flying start as they put in a couple of crunching tackles on the hosts and were rewarded for their pressure in first five minutes.
Garry Ringrose took the decision to kick even with Ulstermen chasing him, leading Iain Henderson and Rory Best charging the kick down for Kieran Treadwell to pounce for an easy try.
John Cooney slotted home the conversion and it was 7-0 with six minutes on the clock. A dream opening for the underdogs.
However, Leinster bounced-back almost immediately, going through the phases before Ross Byrne chose not to pass but to carry instead and in the tackle with an outstretched arm touched the ball down.
He missed the conversion to leave matters at 7-5 to the away side with only 11 minutes gone.
The high-intensity continued and Ulster captain Best went off after 16 minutes due to an ankle injury.
Byrne was handed a penalty opportunity in front of the posts 50 metres out midway through the half, only for him to send it wide once more.
Cooney had no such problems from the tee when given his chance from a Cian Healy penalty moments later, and instead of Leinster going ahead four minutes previous they were now 10-5 behind.
Just past the half-hour mark Byrne began to make up for his errors. Landing a penalty following a Nick Timoney infringement.
Another Byrne penalty soon after put Leinster in the lead for the first time.
Although it was the visitors who went in smiling at half-time with Cooney kicking his second penalty of the night to make it 13-11.
The incredible pace of the opening half continued when the sides returned, and Ulster should have stretched their lead five minutes in.
Jacob Stockdale flew down the wing following a pass on the blindside from Billy Burns, leaving Leinster men in his wake. He got to the try-line as Dave Kearney put in a routine tackle past the line as it looked like Stockdale had scored his seventh try of the tournament.
It wasn’t to be though, as replays showed that he had knocked the ball on while trying to place it
Within minutes that mistake seemed crucial as the host pounded the opposition defence before man of the match Jack Conan decided to have a pick and go from the back of a ruck and sprint forward.
He, much like Stockdale previously, left defenders looking at the back of him, all the while trying to pull up his shorts. He was eventually taken down by Stockdale only to deliver a beautiful offload to Adam Byrne, who finished off the move.
Ross Byrne delivered the extras and it was 18-13 to Leinster.
A long delay followed minutes later as replacement Dan Leavy, who only returned to action last weekend, went down with what seemed to be a very serious knee injury.
During that time Ulster centre Luke Marshall, who himself was returning to action for the first time since last May came on and with only his second touch of the game scored a fine try to bring things level.
Cooney stepped up and uncharacteristically missed the conversion as they went into the final stages at 18 all.
Ross Byrne went down with cramp on more than one occasion over the next few minutes, but when Leinster put the pressure on and earned a penalty, he took responsibility. Sending the kick through the posts to make it a three-point game with seven minutes remaining.
Ulster continued to search for a score, but it was Leinster who ended the game in the opposition 22, as they almost went over for a try, going through 44-phases before Luke McGrath kicked the ball out to confirm the 21-18 win.
After the game, Leinster head coach Leo Cullen admitted his relief at winning and knows his side will have to be better going forward.
“We are relieved to be through to the semi-final. I don’t think we were anywhere near our best. We know we are in two semi-finals, but it’s about how do we build cohesion and our levels of performance so that when it comes to those games, we give a better account of ourselves than we did today,” he said while speaking to RTE Sport.
The win means Leinster are in with a chance of retaining their European crown, but it may have come at a cost with Leavy’s injury and the possibility of losing Byrne to injury also. While Ulster will rue a missed opportunity to dethrone their rivals in what was an epic encounter.
Leinster: Jordan Larmour (6), Adam Byrne (7), Garry Ringrose (6), Rory O’Loughlin (5), Dave Kearney (7), Ross Byrne (8), Luke McGrath (7); Cian Healy (6), Sean Cronin (6), Tadhg Furlong (7), Scott Fardy (8), James Ryan (7), Rhys Ruddock (7), Sean O’Brien (6), Jack Conan (9)
Ulster: Michael Lowry (6), Rob Baloucoune (7), Darren Cave (7), Stuart McCloskey (7), Jacob Stockdale (7), Billy Burns (6), John Cooney (8); Eric O’Sullivan (6), Rory Best (6), Marty Moore (7), Iain Henderson (8), Kieran Treadwell (9), Nick Timoney (6), Jordi Murphy (7), Marcell Coetzee (7)
Champions Cup Pools Confirmed for 2019/20
The five Champions Cup pools have been drawn and there will be some fiercely contested games in the group stages
The Champions Cup pools for the 2019/20 season have been drawn up and there are some interesting match-ups.
Last season’s champions Saracens will kick-off the defence of their crown in what is possibly the toughest group.
Munster fell short against the reigning champions in the semi-finals this year, while Racing lost out against Saracens in the 2016 final.
Northampton know Leinster all too well having fallen short against the Irish province in the 2011 final, while Benetton will fancy their chances of an upset in the opening stages of the competition.
The opening round of fixtures is set to take place on the weekend of November 15th with the final being held at the Stade de Marseille on Saturday the 23rd of May 2020.
Munster Set to Announce New Attack Coach
It appears as though Munster may have found their replacement for Felix Jones
The former Wallaby would be able to begin serving the reds straight away after being sacked from his position as Australia’s attack coach earlier in the year.
Larkham took up a role with the national performance coach adviser but would be available for work straight away.
He would become Munster’s second key coach signing in the past couple of weeks after the arrival of Graham Rowntree, who will take up the post of forwards coach with the province.
Rowntree and Larkham are being brought in to replace Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones respectively, who both parted ways with the club unexpectedly and left head coach Johann van Graan needing new blood.
If Larkham does put pen to paper on a deal it would be a big step in the right direction for Munster and after the doom and gloom of losing two coaches the future will look pretty bright to fans.
Cheika Recalls Leinster Training Sessions and Signing Isa Nacewa
Michael Cheika has discussed some of his more unusual training techniques and signing a Leinster legend
Cheika was in Dublin along with all involved with the 2009 Heineken Cup victory, to mark the 10-year anniversary of the provinces first European Cup.
Speaking at a dinner to mark the occasion Cheika revealed that he used to get involved in the contact training sessions and that players had no idea what to do to him.
“I think I was mid-thirties and I would jump into training – the contact (sessions). The blokes didn’t know whether to bash me or what to do,” he said.
However, that all changed once Jamie Heaslip took it upon himself to make his presence known with the head coach.
“It wasn’t until Heaslip took me one that it turned into a free for all. Everyone wanted to belt me! It was just the idea that you had to have a bit of edge. I’m not going to say I thought it with some great strategy – it’s just who I am. Hopefully that rubbed off to one person and they liked that, and then it rubbed off onto another person. Tactics and techniques all came later,” he added.
Cheika was joined on stage by Leinster legends Brian O’Driscoll and Shane Horgan while he talked about the different methods.
He went on to discuss the recruitment side of things and focused on Isa Nacewa who would turn out to be one of the best players the province has had.
“That guy was playing fly-half one week, wing the next, playing full-back, kicking goals from the side-line, running the show one minute, and never complaining. You never saw any bad body language and always enthusiastic about the game,” he continued.
Nacewa himself went on to talk about how the squad of 2009 was nothing like the squad to today.
“I don’t like to compare squads but when you compare 10 years ago to what it is now today, we were a bunch of misfits. It was the end of the old school era, if you could say that. So many characters in the team. It’s so awesome to be back and having a beer with them, which is pretty cool,” he said.
He noted that the semi-final win over rivals Munster was a highlight of his career within a season where the team as a whole performed at an average level in his eyes.
“If you actually look back on the season as a whole we lost a crap tonne of games. I don’t know how we got through really, but we dug it out. The Croke Park game in 2009 (against Munster) is one of the highlights of my career… you look back and think how important that day was. It was a bit of a milestone really, so that stands out in my eyes,” he added.
Although Leinster won their first European Cup 10-years ago, not many would have predicted how successful the club would become going on to win a further three cups already.
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