Happy Christmas Leinster fans; we got the perfect present!!!
And while a bonus point win at the RDS courtesy of 8 tries and a "fifty burger" would normally be more than enough, I'm not even talking about any of those facts, seeing how it was our 12th victory on the bounce this season.
The gift I'm referring to is the 42 points we conceded, since it actually gives us something to be concerned about for once!!! I mean in all fairness, what's the point of analysing when your performances had been so good, especially on defence?
Seriously though, it really did feel strange seeing so many points at the Ulster end. Full credit to our visitors of course, and they earned the point they brought back up the M1, but given that I've been harping about our defensive organisation particularly in the last half hour of matches, this is not the kind of scoreline we'd want to have too often if we plan to turn this impressive start into significant results at the business end of the campaign.
But that's enough of a pre-amble - as has become a tradition on this site, when there has been this much scoring, the best way to cover it is to go over the tries in sequence, and on this occasion I have even come up with a buzzword for this format - a "try-mline". And no, I refuse to apologise for that - instead I'll just crack on...
2m Max Deegan 1st try (H Byrne conversion) 7-0
Bill Johnston had Ulster's first and second touches of the night; one being the opening kickoff, the other being the restart after this try. Will Connors was tackled high exiting our 22, we worked our way up the field, breaking into their 22 courtesy of a strong Cian Kelleher run up the wing, and after a series of phases at the try line, Max Deegan's determination got it grounded to make it the worst possible start for the visitors.
8m Angus Kernohan try (Bill Johnston conversion) 7-7
Ulster had their first penalty before their third touch courtesy of a strong counter ruck by Tom O'Toole - this put them in our 22 and after we were pinged a couple more times they exerted enough pressure on our line to send it out wide to Kernohan who applied a decent finish. A nice touchline conversion from Johnston levelled the scores.
15m Scott Penny 1st try (Harry Byrne conversion), 14-7.
Once more it was a Kelleher break that got us into the 22, only this time it was some neat work from debutant Tommy O'Brien providing him with the space. Much like the first try we rumbled through some phases around the line before it was Penny getting the ball down.
17m Yellow card Matt Faddes.
Tommy O'Brien had more space to work some magic and while he did slip a bit as he was challenged by his opposite number Faddes, contact was made high and with the guidelines as they are, it was no surprise that the Kiwi was sent to the naughty step.
22m Scott Penny 2nd try (Harry Byrne conversion) 21-7.
Naturally the extra man made our gainline-busting and space-creating that much easier and on another quick-tempo advance up the field courtesy of the fast action from Gibson-Park and the smart ball usage of Harry Byrne, we made it to the line once more and it was Penny again getting it down.
27m Robbie Henshaw try (BP) (Harry Byrne conversion) 28-7.
Even with the caveat of the yellow card, this was easily the pick of the bunch. Henshaw got the finish but this was all about Harry Byrne pulling the strings like a veteran.
First a fizzed miss pass found Kelleher to get us into their half and after a couple of strong runs up the middle with quick recycles, the young number 10 kick passed one perfectly into Robbie's grateful arms to make the finish, and the try bonus point, look all too easy. Tack on a sweet conversion from the touchline and Harry was well on his way to a deserved man of the match award.
35m Matt Faddes try (Bill Johnston conversion) 28-14.
It looked to be another strong attacking situation for Leinster with a scrum at the dead centre of the pitch but after Max Deegan took it from the base, his pass was a shade behind his scrum half and it bounced up into the welcoming arms of Faddes who beat two chasers to the tryline, although in Rob Kearney's diving attempt he proceeded to trip up McFadden. A timely score that gave the visitors hope that something could be salvaged from this trip to Dublin.
39m Fergus McFadden try 33-14 (HT scoreline).
Harry Byrne did most of his good work with the boot but there were also some strong carries and one of them got us back to Ulster's line until Ferg, possibly a tad miffed that Robbie was in position to score on his wing earlier, was the one getting the determined five-pointer on this occasion.
44m Rob Kearney try (Harry Byrne conversion) 40-14.
Ulster skipper on the night Alan O'Connor was pinged for not rolling away at halfway and from the lineout we continued to find success breaking the gainline until another quick miss pass from Harry got it to Rob who forced his way over the line. Yet another sweet strike from the outhalf added the extras.
48m Cian Kelleher try (Harry Byrne conversion) 47-14.
I watched this match from a seat in the Grandstand for a change as opposed to the media box, and when we won yet another penalty around halfway it looked as though the kick to touch would be heading towards us, so everyone in the area went through the standard PPPs (Pint Protection Protocols
Turns out they were unnecessary, however, as Fergus McFadden spotted an overlap on the far wing before finding Henshaw with a perfectly weighted kick pass (so perfect that people around me assumed it was Harry
) and when it was shipped to Kelleher, he had little trouble in beating his man (didn't hurt that it was Alan O'Connor in fairness
) to bring it home. It was just reward for the Connacht returnee who had been waving his arms furiously for such an opportunity most of the first half.
51m Angus Curtis injury.
I really hope the lad is ok - there was absolutely no malice in the tackle and it wasn't even high, it was just the way his left leg folded under him as he fell - the very definition of a "rugby collision" and it certainly won't have helped that a ruck immediately formed around him before Clancy blew his whistle (not the ref's fault either btw
57m Craig Gilroy try (Bill Johnston conversion) 47-21.
After the lengthy injury stoppage, the match resumed with a Leinster scrum deep in our own 22 although it wasn't long before we were back down the other end looking for try number 8, and perhaps we were getting a bit complacent going through the attacking motions when Penny threw a pass which was easily read by Gilroy and you won't stop a winger like him when he snaffles one and gets a head start.
It's worth noting that the three tries we conceded in the first three quarters all came from situations where we had the ball - O'Toole's strong counter ruck leading to a penalty in the 22, Deegan's pass falling behind JGP and Gilroy's intercept - as opposed to actual holes being punched in our trademark defensive wall.
62m Max Deegan 2nd try (Harry Byrne conversion) 54-21.
Deegan strikes me as a perfectionist and given he was the intended recipient of the Penny pass that was intercepted, chances are he felt partly responsible so when we won a free kick at a scrum on the Ulster 22, he tapped quickly to bring it as far as the line and on a follow up 5m scrum, he took it on himself to bring it all the way over the line and ring up another Leinster "fifty-burger".
64m Greg Jones 1st try (BP) (Bill Johnston conversion) 54-28.
Some enterprising play at halfway by sub Ethan McIlroy forced Rob Kearney to concede a 5m scrum and a couple of phases later Jones was barging over the line to guarantee the visitors wouldn't be leaving the RDS empty handed.
73m Greg Jones 2nd try (Bill Johnston conversion) 54-35.
Everyone wearing blue goggles thought Cian Kelleher's collision with David O'Connor after a cheeky chip at midfield should have resulted in a penalty to Leinster, yet while George Clancy got the brunt of the stick from the RDS faithful for disagreeing, I have a feeling the rest of the rugby universe did too, so best leave it there.
Shortly afterwards Kelleher himself was pinged offside and that put the Ulstermen back in our 22 for a lineout and while it took them a few goes (for all the stick Clancy got for constantly calling penalties against us, we were actually lucky not to see yellow long before the 80th minute
), eventually their lineout maul was able to get over the line courtesy of Jones again. The way things were going, a second BP for Dan McFarland's men wasn't completely out of the question.
79m Will Connors yellow card.
I'm not as "anti-Clancy" as many are, but he did frustrate me on this occasion not so much because of his calls against Leinster, rather that so many of them were very late ("after the infraction" as opposed to "in the match"
). After two such calls got Ulster from one end of the pitch to the other, stand-in skipper Josh Murphy got a warning so when Will Connors was deemed offside, he had to go.
80+2m Johnny Stewart try (Bill Johnston conversion) 52-46.
Again it took them a couple of goes and some more penalty help from us (Liam Toland in the eirSport commentary box sounded a bit too keen for my liking to see another Leinster man in the bin
), but with the clock in the red sub scrum half Johnny Stewart did well to bring the ball all the way over the line to end the match on a positive-ish note for the visitors.
So then the Super Rugby-esque try-fest finally came to a close - and despite the alarming concession of 6 tries, the 5 match points were never in doubt for the boys in blue. If anything this match offered support for my argument that the try bonus point system should switch from one where you need 4 tries to one where you must score 3 more than your opponents as it is in the southern hemisphere and France. Had that been in operation here, the try BP would be lost amid all the late Leinster lapses.
But more importantly, this scoreline could well offer hope to the rest of the continent that our infamous blue wall can be breached in the right circumstances. The first three tries may not have proven this, but certainly in the latter stages Ulster showed that backing yourself in the contact can reap some reward if you stick at it, which they certainly did and fair play to them.
Actually I remember Northampton last weekend were attempting their own counter-plan, particularly in the second half. Their support players would not just clear out would-be jacklers, they would also be sure to hang on to them for that few seconds longer than usual to prevent them from getting into their next tackling position and thus possibly creating space.
Now I know that didn't exactly work too well for the Saints, but the fact remains that for all the rich rewards we have reaped with this season's perfect dozen start, we can be sure the rest of Europe will become more determined with each passing week to come up with the right combination to crack our code.
And who's next to have a go? No less than Munster in Thomond Park next weekend. As if that match needed any more drama about it (especially after last year
), they will be extra motivated to burst our blue bubble. Should be a fascinating derby.
Until then, thanks for sticking with my "try-mline" writeup, and be sure to have an absolutely awesome holiday - see you on the other side! JLP