Dreams of a second successive Guinness PRO14 final appearance for Ulster were dashed as Leinster ran out comfortable winners at Ravenhill on Saturday evening.
Marcell Coetzee, Robert Baloucoune and Nick Timoney scored Ulster’s tries while Michael Bent, Josh van der Flier, Ed Byrne, Rhys Ruddock and Dan Sheehan secured the bonus point for the away side.
The game wasn’t without it’s controversy with five yellow cards being issued by Frank Murphy and one red card shown to Andrew Warwick for leading with the elbow. There were plenty of talking points as noted below.
Ulster (12) 19
TRY: Marcell Coetzee, Robert Baloucoune, Nick Timoney
CON: John Cooney, Michael Lowry
Leinster (24) 38
TRY: Michael Bent, Josh van der Flier, Ed Byrne, Rhys Ruddock, Dan Sheehan
CON: Ross Byrne (5)
PEN: Ross Byrne
Tries from Coetzee and Baloucoune gave Ulster a perfect start and they led 12-3 after 15 minutes. The second try was a particularly good score from the Ulstermen with Kieran Treadwell and Stuart McCloskey managing to put John Andrew away down the right wing and he fed Baloucoune for his 13th try in an Ulster shirt.
With Leinster down to 13 men, I thought Ulster made a few decision making errors. A kick from Cooney into space was knocked on by Andrew, allowing Leinster the ball and to waste over a minute setting the scrum. Devin Toner returned to the pitch and helped Leinster over the line culminting in a Bent score to decrease the deficit to just two points as O’Brien finished his sin bin.
Warwick received his red card before van der Flier and Byrne gave Leinster a 24-12 lead at half time. Despite playing the second half a man light, Ulster had some good opportunities. One resulted in a ruled out score while the other saw Timoney cross for his third try of the season.
Baloucoune’s disallowed try allowed Leinster to return to the Ulster 22 and secure the bonus point through Rhys Ruddock. Ruddock and Cormac Izuchuwku both spent ten minutes in the bin before Dan Sheehan crossed for his side’s sixth try.
The talking points…
Andrew Warwick was show a straight red card for leading with the forearm and connecting with Ed Byrne’s throat. Murphy was initially going to show a yellow card but was persuaded to have a second look by TMO Olly Hodges who advised him to upgrade the sanction.
World Rugby have clamped down massively on leading with the forearm/elbow which has seen red cards issued for what appears to be fairly innocous incidents in a bid to eradicate the amount potentially life changing concussions received by players. There is zero tolerance to contact to the head and if this happens, you run the risk of an early shower as mentioned in a law application guideline dated October 2018.
It was foul play – you cannot lead with the forearm/elbow when it is detached from the body (Law 9.24) and it was reckless and dangerous – as the first contact was above the shoulders. A red card for contact with the head carries an automatic mid-range entry point of six weeks, but I think he will get the full 50% mitigation and receive a three week ban.
- Law 9.24: A ball-carrier is permitted to hand off an opponent provided excessive force is not used.
- Hand off: A permitted action, taken by a ball-carrier to fend off an opponent, using the palm of the hand.
Nobody, can have any complaints about the cards of Devin Toner, Rhys Ruddock and Stuart McCloskey, but I thought Jimmy O’Brien was a bit fortunate to get away with only a yellow card. It was definitely head on head contact, but Murphy argues that Ian Madigan jumps and therefore changes the point of contact, mitigating it down to a yellow card. To me it looked like Madigan’s upward motion prevented nastier collision than one that took place and that O’Brien’s action was with force even though it was not intentional.
Robert Baloucoune had a great individual effort ruled out after 49 minutes due to obstruction by Stuart McCloskey. I thought this was a harsh call on Ulster as the centre was in a realistic ball carrying option which saw Ruddock buy the dummy and create a gap for Baloucoune to exploit. I can understand why a penalty was given however as McCloskey did cross Baloucoune’s line when the Enniskillen man was in possession of the ball.
There were protestations from McCloskey of Leinster obstruction in the build up to his yellow card, however this was not reviewed so we could not see a better angle to form an opinion.
Ulster: Michael Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Ian Madigan, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, John Andrew, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee. Replacements: Adam McBurney, Andrew Warwick, Marty Moore, Cormac Izuchukwu, Sean Reidy, Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle
Where now for Ulster?
It is now mathematically impossible for Ulster to catch leaders Leinster in Conference A. In order to incorporate the Rainbow Cup, the PRO14 season has been shortened, meaning only the top sides (Leinster and Munster) will compete in the final.
Regardless of the thoughts on changing the format mid-season – I think it ruins the integrity of the competition – there is nothing for Ulster to play for in until the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup gets underway on the first weekend of April. Dan McFarland has already said that he will rotate for the two remaining games against Dragons and Zebre.
For now, we will have to settle for yet another disappointing result against our Dublin neighbours.