Leinster take PRO14 title against Ulster
A 10-point burst from Leinster in the space of two minutes not long after halftime killed the Guinness PRO14 as a contest and set the Dublin team on the path to a 27-5 win over Ulster that clinched them their third successive title at Aviva Stadium on Saturday night.
As the scoreline suggests, it was a comprehensive all-round performance from Leinster, who once again went behind early but never let it impact on their self-assurance and belief in what was needed to win.
The numbers keep mounting for Leinster. Apart from this being their hat-trick of PRO14 titles, the win in the competition decider was also their 25th in succession since they last lost, which was in the Champions Cup final against Saracens in Newcastle 15 months ago.
For Ulster it was their second failure at the last hurdle in this competition. Although they did win the Celtic League back in 2006, their only other appearance in the PRO14 (then the PRO12) was a defeat in the 2013 decider.
Ulster went in as rank underdogs but their hopes would have been lifted in the early minutes.
They managed a busy start to the game, and troubled Leinster when they stretched play down the backline, which was their obvious intention.
The try they scored in the fifth minute, with centre James Hume breaking a tackle and then searing through the open space before rolling over to score, was exquisite and was a great way for the PRO14 decider to start.
But while they remained busy for the next few minutes, once Leinster got a chance to attack they made full use of it, with wing James Lowe crossing off a flat pass on the Ulster line in the 12th minute to give Leinster the lead. Their flyhalf Ross Byrne succeeded where Ulster had failed by kicking the angled conversion to make it 7-5.
As has been the case with Leinster recently, they were very good when it came to playing the big moments, with Ulster failing to make the required impression on a team that always just seems to be able to withstand any kind of pressure and has composure and something in hand on their opponents.
As the game endured, so Leinster’s pressure began to tell on Ulster, with the home team’s openside flanker Josh van der Flyer particularly instrumental in putting pressure on Ulster outside half Billy Burns and shutting down at source any kind of opportunity that Ulster had after that.
Ulster, as teams under pressure tend to, gave away penalties at key moments. One of those was kicked by Byrne in the 26th minute to stretch the lead to five points.
If Ulster were going to be competitive, they needed to score before halftime but their best chance came through a penalty that was kicked to the corner to set up an attacking lineout, only for Leinster to win a penalty of their own that enabled them to relieve the pressure.
Still, with the halftime score being just 10-5, Ulster were still in the game when the second half started.
That was quickly to change, however, with first Byrne kicking a penalty to put his team eight points ahead (13-5). Then came a perfect read from centre Robbie Henshaw as Ulster tried to run out of their own half.
The intercept try made it 20-5 after 46 minutes. Adding to the Ulster woes at that point was the fact that their influential Springbok eighthman Marcell Coetzee had to leave the field with an injury.
It was said beforehand that Coetzee was the man standing between Leinster and the title, and with the South African off the field Ulster had little hope of getting anything from the game.
Perhaps because they have a Champions Cup quarterfinal against the last team to beat them, Saracens, to look forward to next week, Leinster never really flattened the accelerator after that.
But they played most of the rest of the game in Ulster territory and gave the impression that they always had it under control and the PRO14 trophy still safely under lock and key. It will take quite a team to change that.
Flanker Caelan Doris went over for the try in the 72nd minute that confirmed the inevitable.
Scorers: Leinster: 27 — Tries: James Lowe, Robbie Henshaw and Caelan Doris; Conversions: Ross Byrne 2 and Johnny Sexton; Penalties: Ross Byrne 2
Ulster: 5 — Try: James Hume. — Supersport.com
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