Leinster earned the bragging rights in this local derby Guinness Pro 12 encounter at the RDS. Hawkeye Sidekick attempts to review the action and to be honest it will be as difficult as listening to Ryan Tubridy attempting his Broadway audition in the opening Late Late Toy Show salvo.
What does an Irish rugby provincial supporter expect in an interpro game? They expect two teams regardless of the province to compete, play for the jersey and attempt to play a brand of rugby which is entertaining. You could not fault the effort of either Leinster or Ulster tonight but the lack of quality in passing and handling by both sides left a hollow feel to proceedings throughout. The blustery weather conditions resulted in both sides having to retain ball and this exposed huge gaps in basic skill set.
Several phrases of promising play ruined by an errand pass or handling mistake was the theme throughout and to be honest both teams showed signs of teams coming off hard losses last weekend. Leinster came into this encounter on the back of two European Cup defeats albeit last weekend’s reversal against Bath was a marked improvement from the abject display produced against Wasps. Ulster arrived in Dublin fresh off the back of a trouncing (no other word for it) against a rampant Saracens outfit at Kingspan Stadium (or Ravenhill to the rugby die hards). With both teams having points to prove, the quality of are produced did not set pulses racing on a bitterly cold evening at the RDS.
Leinster won this contest with the only try of the game. It was fitting that the score just before the interval owed more to up the jumper rugby than any spark of creativity to open an opposition defense. Leinster’s pack won their lineout five meters from Ulster’s line (after concerted Leinster pressure) and drove to the line. Sean Cronin emerged from the ruck with the ball. An opening try which produced much needed cohesion but the subsequent conversion attempt from Sexton summed up the game perfectly, turgid. Ulster threatened to response before the break, notably Stuart McCloskey to the fore with some impressive ball carries but Ulster ultimately lost possession and cue half-time as Cronin was feeling his facial features after a shuddering collision from the imposing Ian Henderson.
In fairness to Leinster, they attempted to raise the tempo to their play in the second half. Rhys Ruddock setting up the perfect platform with a lung bursting run which ultimately ended up with Sexton’s pass to Teo being inexpicably knocked on when a try was a formality. It continued the trend to the game, honest endeavor with little in the way of creativity. The lack of offloading from both sides tonight was non-existent. The weather was a factor but the reluctance to attempt an offload with a player supporting in close proximity showed everyone the distinct lack of confidence both sides are playing with currently.
Ulster threatened little in the second half, constantly on the back foot as Leinster’s territorial dominance was not being reflected on the scoreboard. Jackson’s ineffective performance with ball in hand did little to launch Cave or McCloskey in the three quarters. His kicking out of hand led to Luke Fitzgerald repeatedly winning easy gain line yards, the only creative player on the pitch. Les Kiss has an issue at out-half in terms of open play. Jackson needs to step up, otherwise Pienaar and Marshall at half-back will be a reality sooner rather than later.
Leo Cullen and Leinster players will add press notes to the effect that the win will turn the season, the win will increase confidence ahead but the lack of cutting edge from a dominant platform will scare Cullen with a trip to Toulon looming large. Lack of back line precision is hurting the side currently. Kirchner as a fourteen is a wasted pick when the South African is a full back by trade. Gary Ringrose’s cameo suggests that Leo Cullen will be using the youngster more in the coming weeks. His freedom to offload and make yards in tight fringes caught the eye. Teo at thirteen has all the credentials to make a big impression with Leinster but his consistency is frustrating. The pack in general performed well tonight but the scrum will be tested more rigourously in the Toulon games. Sexton at out-half showed all the tricks but his inconsistent penalty kick woes continue.
Where now for Ulster? Two provincial losses to Munster and now Leinster leaves Ulster with a challenge to move up the league standings. Ulster’s squad on paper should be far better than what is being produced on game day. Each squad player is talented but the application and mentality in close exchanges has let themselves down in critical times in recent seasons. Les Kiss as head coach should not be an easy out for Ulster squad to call the season “transitional” but the new head coach has to nip those bad habits and issues as soon as possible. Jackson at out-half has stalled into career progression and Ulster’s back play in games such as Leinster is one dimensional.
Leinster win but this game will be forgotten about quickly. Ireland rugby dark cloud post World Cup continues and the skill level on show would not provide any solace for Ireland rugby supporters heading into the 6N next year. Two teams who conceivably could be humiliated next weekend in European action may confirm the worse suspicions about this contest tonight. In Ringrose, McCloskey and Van Der Flier we now trust.