August 14, 2016
Leinster started the game with a relatively strong and experienced pack and came out of the blocks firing. Some strong carries and offloading from Conan nearly had the home side away down the right flank in the opening exchanges. After 10 minutes Dan Leavy grounded the ball from the back of a line-out maul to get Leinster on the board. Ross Byrne added the extras. Leinster were clearly looking to play a straight running, offloading game and were making territory, but the last pass wasn't going to hand in many cases. Ulster came back strong and a kick in behind the Leinster defensive line, which Leinster made a real mess of dealing with, led to an Ulster 7 pointer about 15 minutes later.
It was a fairly even contest in the opening 40 with Leinster creating more opportunities but failing to capitalise on them through unforced errors or cheap penalties. That was until the stroke of half-time when Rory O'Loughlin, playing at 13, spotted a gap in midfield just inside the Ulster half. A cracking solo run saw him almost make the line, getting dragged down just short. Conan, however, was on hand and O'Loughlin got the offload away from the deck and Leinster went ahead 14-7. While Leinster were struggling to finish their chances they had been on top in the set piece, having stolen a few line-outs and won the scrum battle. But that wasn't to last.
Both teams made almost wholesale changes at the break and Ian Nagle got his first run out in blue. Unfortunately inside the first minute he was yellow carded for a tip tackle. Leinster had also brought in U20s players Porter and Abdaladze while Ulster brought in Warwick and Ah You. As you'd expect Ulster were dominant from here on out at scrum time. However during the Nagle binning it was Leinster who looked the most dangerous in open play. Zane Kirchner at 13 was causing a lot of problems and young Joey Carbery was living up to the hype. Leinster survived the sin bin period without conceding. Unfortunately less than 10 minutes after Nagle came back on Leinster lost Porter to the bin for repeated scrum infringements.
Despite this it was Leinster who went on the attack. Billy Dardis, who looked dangerous anytime he got on the ball, made a nice break up the left hand side. Again though the offload didn't go to hand, and Dardis dislocated his shoulder taking contact. Leinster were down to 13 men and Ulster were able to take advantage out wide where the numbers just weren't there for the home team. The game was back level, 14-14.
Once Leinster got back to full strength however they did all the damage in the final 10 minutes. The 3 tries and 1 conversion in that period accounted for the difference on the board at the end. Rory O'Loughlin, who had moved to the wing, chipped in behind the Ulster line and regathered. Josh Murphy was up in support and took the final pass. A couple of minutes later Zane Kirchner got outside his man and found the supporting Fergus McFadden to push the lead out to 10. And at the death Leinster created a simple enough overlap for Adam Byrne to get the 5th of the day. Carberry converted to end it 31-14.
From a Leinster perspective it was a really encouraging 80 minutes. Where as for the last few seasons the back line hasn't been as threatening as it could be today we saw some real signs of development on that front. Gone was the crabbing across the pitch. Gone was the constant ruck after ruck after ruck. Gone were the endless box kicks. Players ran straight with support runners on either shoulder. Carriers looked to offload. What little kicking there was from our 10s was tactical and generally quite good. The only times carriers ran in any way laterally was to get outside their man, but they were looking to straighten as they did. So there was more space available to attack in and it was easier to run support lines. That was incredibly encouraging, but we must keep it in perspective. This was a relatively tame pre-season game where both sides were just testing out their game plans for the coming season. Being able to do those things in a full on competitive game is another matter entirely. And there were still a fair few errors in the execution, in the first half particularly. They need to push on now and look to improve on these foundations.
In terms of players who stood out Ross Molony was probably the best of the forwards. Jack Conan, who was only on for the first half, was superb as was Dominic Ryan. But Molony played most of the game and was everywhere. Defensively he was strong, he was carrying and offloading well. He secured all his line-out balls and he nicked a few of theirs for good measure. Ross Byrne had a solid game, but Joey Carbery really was probably the better of the 2 tens. He took the ball to the line well and was well able to get in behind the defensive line with some nice footwork. Tom Daly looked strong at 12 and Niall Morris, a few errors aside, looked lively from full-back. Rory O'Loughlin played the first half at 13 and a good portion of the second at 11. At 13 he seemed to struggle a little with the physicality, but that break for Leinsters second was superb. At 11 he was was a constant threat though. Always seemed to make yards in contact and seemed fairly slippery at times too. Zane Kirchner at 13 was really strong and Porter, while he struggled at scrum time, was powerful in the loose.
From Ulsters perspective I would imagine they'd be fairly disappointed even though they did have a far less experienced side out. They should have made more of their dominance in the third quarter but Leiinsters defence was too strong. They seemed somewhat lacking through the middle and only ever really found space out wide. And they seemed to tire with 10 to go. Unfortunately I didn't know most of the Ulster players so can't really comment on them. But in fairness there was significantly less experience in the Ulster side generally speaking and that told in the final 10 minutes.
With Gloucester coming to Tallaght next week and Bath in Donnybrook the week after that it will be interesting to see who else gets a run out for Leinster and whether we will continue to see this positive style of play. It was great to see Graham Henry talking with Leo and Girve during the game. With any luck the coaches can continue what appears to have been good work during pre-season and turn it into some form in the season to come.