Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fine Ulster campaign ends in heartbreak

…but you can be sure they will be even stronger next season, writes Kristian Ross…

Kristian Ross avatar

Ulster Rugby's campaign for the title of PRO12 champions came to a disappointing end at the RDS on Saturday as Joe Schmidt completed successive double for Leinster.

Their lack of discipline was their ultimate downfall. Within just seven minutes Leinster had racked up ten points, a Shane Jennings try capped off with a lovely conversion by the departing Johnny Sexton, and he added a penalty as Ulster started to concede ground time after time via the referees whistle.

The Ulstermen knew the task was already mammoth and launched an attack on the Leinster line, numerous scrums leading to nothing as Isaac Boss scrambled the ball from Nick Williams and Leinster cleared.

Robbie Diack looked like he almost added yet another to his collection as Ulster started to play with fluidity, but his attempt was adjudged to have been held up, and again the PRO12 table toppers came away with nothing.

However Leinster did finally give Ulster an opportunity for some points, a penalty conceded in front of the posts and Ruan Pienaar reduced the deficit to seven. Sexton had the opportunity to restore the advantage a few minutes later, but he skewed his effort wide, and Anscombe's side breathed a sigh of relief.

The referee again had to penalise Ulster this time from the scrum, as the penalty count grew and grew, and this time Sexton didn't disappoint for the boys in blue with a good kick from range. And moments later it was Ulster who got the chance for a shot at goal and Ruan Pienaar again gave Ulster something to smile about with another three.

But Ulster fans were left fuming as a Leinster attack ended up with another converted Sexton penalty, but it could clearly be seen that John Afoa was being impeded, something that no officials picked up on, and Leinster who started the half with a ten point advantage would go into half time with just that.

It had hardly been a half for any Ulster fan to be positive about, and even with the wind behind their back in the second half, Mark Anscombe's men knew the task they faced was going to be a huge uphill struggle.

Things didn't get off to best possible start for Ulster either, Robbie Diack sent to the bin, adjudged to have been of his feet. Sexton's resulting penalty was clipped over, and Leinster now had one hand on the trophy at 19-6.

Never say never had been an attitude of the Ulstermen this season though, and a super Paddy Jackson run almost saw him get the first try for the men from Belfast, as Isa Nacewa was sent to the bin and both teams were reduced to fourteen men. Ulster opted for the posts and Pienaar easily got the points.

And minutes after Pienaar again added yet another penalty for Ulster with a great kick, as Ulster were within a just converted score of levelling proceedings. Ruan had once again shown just how reliable he was, and on fifty five minutes bent a superb penalty inside the posts, and amazingly Ulster were just within four.

With a unlikely comeback still on the cards, Ulster knew they couldn't afford any more slip ups, but with eighteen minutes to go and a penalty advantage already coming, Leinster scored their second try through Jamie Heaslip via the TMO, and despite Sexton missing the conversion, Leinster had opened a nine point advantage.

It proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Ulster, despite what was in my opinion the kick of the season from Ruan Pienaar, just inside his own half from the most difficult of angles and some good attacking intent but as the final whistle blew it was Leinster Rugby who had finally put behind their PRO12 demons, as the Ulstermen fell at the final hurdle.

In the end, a heart-breaking way for Ulster to lose the PRO12 crown, an ill disciplined display in the first half took it's toll, and the task was very hard from the moment Leinster opened a ten point lead.

Mark Anscombe will be disappointed, but it's fair to say aside from the Heineken Cup defeat to Saracens this season, the Kiwi has done a fantastic result at his first season in Belfast, Ulster finishing top of the league and playing some brilliant free flowing rugby that has led to try after try and some huge wins. Seven defeats in nine months tell it's story. Ulster have been incredibly tough to break down and have shown not just the PRO12, but the whole of Europe just what a force they have become.

Ulster may not have clinched glory on the final day of the year, but they certainly showed the positivity and passion throughout the season that was a tribute to Nevin Spence who showed exactly the same characteristics whenever he pulled on a jersey.

Next season will bring with it a huge challenge, the task of going one more and bringing some silverware to Ravenhill. A new Ravenhill at that. A new start. Likely to see some new players to. But one thing is for sure. Still the same brilliant fans, still the same brilliant Ulster Rugby. It has been a rollercoaster of season, and despite defeat on the final day, I've loved every single second. Forget the season is over. Start counting down the days til all starts again. Sad and disappointed are words I won't use to describe the end of the campaign. The word I will use... Proud.

Stand Up For The Ulstermen.

And as a further footnote, well done to Rory Best who has travelled to Australia to take place in the British and Irish Lions tour. A huge accolade and so very well deserved.

I'm Kristian. 18. And my mind is filled with rugby shaped thoughts. Supporting Ulster Rugby, Newcastle Falcons and of course the mighty Ireland. Tommy Bowe is the MAN !!!! SUFTUM.

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