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)
Big names miss out for Ulster
The back line sees just one change from the side that played Toulouse last Friday. Michael Lowry, Jacob Stockdale and Matt Faddes all retain their positions in the back three. Stuart McCloskey and James Hume are the starting midfield duo. Billy Burns returns at fly-half and will captain the side; he will partner John Cooney at scrum-half.
The front row remains unchanged for this game. Rob Herring is named at hooker, with Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore packing down at loosehead and tighthead prop. Alan O’Connor will partner with his brother David – who will make his first Heineken Champions Cup start with Sam Carter missing out through concussion. Sean Reidy has been selected at blindside, with Jordi Murphy returning at openside. Nick Timoney comes in to start at Number Eight to replace the injured Marcel Coetzee.
John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, and Greg Jones are the forward bench options. Academy player, Ethan McIlroy could make his European debut if called upon from the bench, and is named alongside Alby Mathewson and Ian Madigan in the back line replacements.
Ulster team to play Gloucester, Heineken Champions Cup Round 2, Saturday 19 December 2020 at Kingsholm Stadium, kick-off 3.15pm, live on BT Sport / beIN Sport:
(15-9) Michael Lowry, Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns (Capt.), John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, David O’Connor, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Ethan McIlroy.
Ulster name strong side to face Toulouse
In the back three, Jacob Stockdale returns from international duty to the left wing, joining Michael Lowry at full-back and Matt Faddes on the right wing. In midfield, Stuart McCloskey also returns from the Ireland squad to partner with James Hume. Ian Madigan has been named at fly-half alongside John Cooney at scrum-half.
Having made his international debut against Scotland last week, Eric O’Sullivan, comes in to take the starting berth at loosehead prop. Rob Herring also returns from Ireland duties and is named at hooker, with Marty Moore retaining his position at tighthead. Alan O’Connor will partner with Sam Carter, who will lead the side from the second row. Sean Reidy and Jordi Murphy are named at blindside and openside, with Marcell Coetzee completing the pack at Number Eight.
John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor, and Matty Rea provide the forward options, with Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore and Craig Gilroy offering back line cover from the bench.
Ulster team to play Toulouse, Heineken Champions Cup Round 1, Friday 11 December 2020 at Kingspan Stadium, kick-off 8pm, live on BT Sport / beIN Sport:
(15-9) Michael Lowry, Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Ian Madigan, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter (Capt.), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor, Matty Rea, Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore, Craig Gilroy.
Heineken Champions Cup Pool Draw for 2020/21
The holders, Exeter Chiefs, will play against Toulouse and Glasgow Warriors in the pool stage of the 2020/21 Heineken Champions Cup following the tournament Pool Draw which was held on Wednesday 28 October at the Maison du Sport International in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Exeter, who lifted the trophy for the first time after a dramatic 25th anniversary final earlier this month, were drawn into Pool B and will meet the four-time tournament winners and Glasgow over four pool stage rounds on a home and away basis.
Under the new format for the 2020/21 season featuring two pools of 12 clubs, reigning Guinness PRO14 champions, Leinster Rugby, will have Montpellier and Northampton Saints as their opponents in Pool A when the tournament kicks off again in December, while last season’s runners-up, Racing 92, are in Pool B where they will be up against Connacht Rugby and Harlequins.
Wasps, who were edged out by the Chiefs in the Gallagher Premiership final, will meet Dragons and Montpellier in Pool A, and PRO14 finalists, Ulster Rugby, will take on Gloucester Rugby and Toulouse in Pool B.
Munster Rugby will renew their European rivalry with ASM Clermont Auvergne and Harlequins in Pool B, while Bristol Bears’ Director of Rugby, Pat Lam, will make a return to Galway when the Challenge Cup winners go up against Connacht and Clermont also in Pool B.
For the purposes of the draw, the 24 clubs which qualified from the Premiership, the PRO14 and the TOP 14 were classified into four tiers based on their performances in the knockout phases of their respective leagues, and/or on their qualifying positions in their respective league tables.
Each tier contained six clubs with Tier 1 made up of the number one and number two ranked clubs from each league, and Tier 2, the number three and number four ranked clubs from each league, and so on.
Starting with Tier 1, the clubs were either drawn or allocated into either Pool A or Pool B so that each pool contained 12 clubs with no clubs in the same tier from the same league in the same pool.
The key principles regarding the pool stage fixtures are that clubs will only play against opponents in the same pool, and clubs from the same league cannot play against one another.
The Tier 1 and Tier 4 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not from the same league, will play one another home and away over four rounds. The same principle applies to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not from the same league.
The exact dates of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stage fixtures and the Challenge Cup preliminary stage fixtures, including venues, kick-off times and TV coverage, will be announced as soon as possible following consultation with clubs and EPCR’s partner broadcasters.
The four highest-ranked clubs from each Heineken Champions Cup pool will qualify for the quarter-finals which will be played over two legs, and the clubs ranked from number five to number eight in each pool will qualify for the Round of 16 of the Challenge Cup.
Today’s draw, which mapped out the first steps on the journey to the 2021 Marseille finals weekend, was conducted by EPCR Chief Executive, Vincent Gaillard, and by EPCR Commercial and Brand Manager, Anya Alderslade.
The event scrutineer was Lausanne-based solicitor, Jean-Guillaume Amiguet.
2020/21 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP
POOL A (with opponents in brackets)
Bordeaux-Bègles (Dragons, Northampton Saints)
Leinster Rugby (Montpellier, Northampton Saints)
Wasps (Dragons, Montpellier)
Bath Rugby (La Rochelle, Scarlets)
Edinburgh Rugby (La Rochelle, Sale Sharks)
RC Toulon (Sale Sharks, Scarlets)
La Rochelle (Bath Rugby, Edinburgh Rugby)
Sale Sharks (Edinburgh Rugby, RC Toulon)
Scarlets (Bath Rugby, RC Toulon)
Dragons (Bordeaux-Bègles, Wasps)
Montpellier (Leinster Rugby, Wasps)
Northampton Saints (Bordeaux-Bègles, Leinster Rugby)
POOL B (with opponents in brackets)
Exeter Chiefs (Glasgow Warriors, Toulouse)
Lyon (Glasgow Warriors, Gloucester Rugby)
Ulster Rugby (Gloucester Rugby, Toulouse)
Bristol Bears (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Connacht Rugby)
Munster Rugby (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Harlequins)
Racing 92 (Connacht Rugby, Harlequins)
ASM Clermont Auvergne (Bristol Bears, Munster Rugby)
Connacht Rugby (Bristol Bears, Racing 92)
Harlequins (Munster Rugby, Racing 92)
Glasgow Warriors (Exeter Chiefs, Lyon)
Gloucester Rugby (Lyon, Ulster)
Toulouse (Exeter Chiefs, Ulster Rugby)
2020/21 season weekends
Round 1 – 11/12/13 December 2020
Round 2 – 18/19/20 December 2020
Round 3 – 15/16/17 January 2021
Round 4 – 22/23/24 January 2021
Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, 1st leg – 2/3/4 April 2021
Challenge Cup Round of 16 – 2/3/4 April 2021
Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, 2nd leg – 9/10/11 April 2021
Challenge Cup quarter-finals – 9/10/11 April 2021
Semi-finals – 30 April – 1/2 May 2021
2021 finals – Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Challenge Cup final – Friday 21 May
Heineken Champions Cup final – Saturday 22 May
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