Leinster’s Max Deegan and Scott Penny both scored a brace of tries to add to five-pointers from Robbie Henshaw, Fergus McFadden, Cian Kelleher and Rob Kearney to wrap-up a comprehensive victory.
Leinster had the perfect start to the game as Deegan scored the opening try of the night when he powered over from close range after just over three-minutes. Harry Byrne sent the conversion between the posts to make it 7-0.
Ulster came flying back and were camped in the Leinster 22, as the home side conceded penalty after penalty, with the visitors refusing to take the three-points from a kickable position.
They were rewarded for their patience when they spread the ball wide to winger Angus Kernohan from a scrum and he bolted over the line to touch-down. Bill Johnston sent over a lovely conversion to level the scores with 10 minutes on the clock.
However, just as Ulster had done, Leinster hit back right after the restart and held onto the ball for the next five minutes, edging closer and closer to the try-line, before eventually flanker Penny drove over for his team’s second try. Byrne made it two from two from the tee to make it 14-7.
Things got worse for the northern province heading towards the end of the first quarter as centre Matt Faddes was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Leinster debutant Tommy O’Brien.
Leinster took full advantage of the extra man and had their third try with 23-minutes on the clock as they powered forward, going through the phases before Penny again pushed over the line from close-range. Byrne smashed the extras over from the right-hand side of the posts to stretch the lead to 21-7, with Ulster full-back Rob Lyttle going off injured following the kick.
The home side had the bonus-point wrapped up before the half-hour mark as they took the ball up the field before Byrne chipped a perfectly weighted ball over to the right side of the pitch to Henshaw, who collected and strolled over for the fourth try. Byrne slotted a brilliant kick over from the right-touchline.
Ulster got another try on the board when Deegan sent a poor pass to Jamison Gibson-Park from a scrum near half-way and from there Faddes picked up the loose ball, sprinting forward and out-running the Leinster defence to score. Johnston hit the extras to cut Leinster’s lead to 28-14 with 36-minutes gone.
Although it was Leinster that had the last laugh of the half as Byrne showed some fantastic dancing feet to break through the opposition defence, before getting tapped to the ground, but got the pop-pass away. From there McFadden had the easy task of picking the ball up from a ruck in front of the try-line and bursting over. Byrne couldn’t add the extra two, but the hosts went in 33-14 up at the half-time whistle.
Leinster started where they left off in the first-half at the opening of the second-half, as they burst into the Ulster half before Byrne sent a long-pass out to Kearney, who stepped inside from the right-wing and barrelled over for the try. Byrne made no mistake with the kick to make it 40-14 with only five-minutes gone in the second-half.
Four-minutes later and they had their seventh try as McFadden showed some brilliant vision and skill as he took a quick penalty in his own half, kicking the ball from the right-wing to the left. Henshaw plucked the ball out of the sky and sent the ball left to Kelleher, who raced forward to score his try. Byrne made it six kicks from seven making it 47-14 with half and hour to go.
Ulster got a lucky third-try of the game as they approached the hour-mark, as Penny sent a loose pass toward the left-wing which Craig Gilroy intercepted and bolted over the line. Johnston again scored the conversion to make it 47-21.
With 63-minutes on the clock Leinster were in once again as Deegan picked from the back of a scrum and charged under the posts for his second try of the night. Byrne converted once more.
The scoring continued as the away side went over through Greg Jones which secured a bonus-point for them. Johnston maintained his 100% record from the tee with his fourth conversion of the game to make it 54-28.
Ulster’s fight-back continued as Jones went over for another try with eight minutes left. Johnston kicked a brilliant conversion from the left of the posts to cut into the lead late on.
Josh Murphy was shown a yellow-card after an accumulation of penalties from the home side in the final minute. From the resulting scrum replacement scrum-half darted over for his side’s sixth try of the game. Johnston converted with the final kick of the match to leave it at 54-42.
The win pushes Leinster further ahead at the top of Conference A with eight wins from eight in the PRO14, while Ulster will be encouraged by their late rally from their youngsters. Next up for Leinster is a trip to Munster on December 28th, while Ulster face Connacht the day before as they continue the inter-provincial derbies over the Christmas period.
Leinster Starting XV:
Rob Kearney (7), Fergus McFadden (8), Tommy O’Brien (7), Robbie Henshaw (8), Cian Kelleher (7), Harry Byrne (9), Jamison Gibson-Park (7); Peter Dooley (7), Sean Cronin (7), Andrew Porter (7), Scott Fardy (7), Josh Murphy (8), Will Connors (7), Scott Penny (9), Max Deegan (9)
Ulster Starting XV:
Rob Lyttle (5), Craig Gilroy (7), Matt Faddes (6), Angus Curtis (6), Angus Kernohan (6), Bill Johnston (7), David Shanahan (7); Andrew Warwick (6), Adam McBurney (6), Tom O’Toole (7), David O’Connor (6), Alan O’Connor (6), Matthew Rea (6), Nick Timoney (7), Greg Jones (7)
Munster confirm Zebo signing
This co-funded contract will see Munster’s all-time record try-scorer return from Racing 92 and line out for his home club where he made 144 appearances and scored 60 tries between 2010 and 2018.
In his third season with the Top 14 side, the 31-year-old has played 55 times and scored 21 tries to date.
Head Coach Johann van Graan said, “The opportunity to bring Simon back to Munster came about in early April following a final review of our squad’s budgetary position for season-end and with assistance from the IRFU to support what we believe is a really good deal for Munster and Irish Rugby.
“Simon’s desire to return to Ireland and play with his home club is illustrated by his willingness to sign at a level below his market value elsewhere. This has made bringing the province’s all-time leading try-scorer back home, possible.”
Simon Zebo said, “I am thrilled and honoured to be coming back home to play for Munster. My family and I have been so lucky to have enjoyed three incredible years with Racing 92 in Paris and I cannot thank the team there enough, I really have made friends for life and take with me some brilliant memories.
“However, as everyone knows, Munster holds a very special place in my heart and I’ve always said that I wanted to play for them and potentially Ireland again, so when this opportunity arose the lure of being close to home, family and friends and Munster fans, it outweighed all other options. I cannot wait to get back to the HPC with the team and hopefully a packed Thomond Park.”
Ulster Rugby agree to release Coetzee early
Marcell Coetzee has played his last game for Ulster Rugby.
With back-row, Marcell Coetzee, currently side-lined with a hamstring injury, Ulster Rugby has agreed terms which will see the player released from the club at the end of this month, ahead of his planned departure at the conclusion of the 2020/21 season.
Given the need for several weeks of rehabilitation following the injury sustained by Coetzee in last month’s Guinness PRO14 fixture against Leinster, Ulster Rugby and the player have reached a mutual agreement to part ways on Friday 30 April.
Head of Rugby Operations and Recruitment, Bryn Cunningham, said: “We have come to an agreement that will allow Marcell the time and space required to continue his rehab.
Lowry retained at 10 for Ulster v Zebre
21-year-old, Cormac Izuchukwu will make his first start for the Ulster men as he is named in the second row alongside Kieran Treadwell. Marty Moore comes back into the starting front row at tighthead, with Eric O’Sullivan and John Andrew retaining their starting berths at loosehead and hooker. Jordi Murphy will captain the side at openside flanker, with Sean Reidy and David McCann being retained at blindside and Number Eight.
A youthful back line sees Ethan McIlroy coming into the back three at full-back, with Rob Lyttle on the left wing and Robert Baloucoune returning on the right. Stewart Moore and James Hume will make up the midfield pairing, while John Cooney and Michael Lowry are named at half-back.
Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor and Matty Rea are the forward reinforcements, with David Shanahan, Ian Madigan and Ben Moxham providing the back line options on the bench.
Ulster team to play Zebre Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Round 16, Friday 19 March at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports / eir Sport):
(15-9) Ethan McIlroy, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle, Michael Lowry, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, John Andrew, Marty Moore, Cormac Izuchukwu, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordy Murphy (Capt.), David McCann.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Matty Rea, David Shanahan, Ian Madigan, Ben Moxham.