It appeared to be Leinster’s destiny to lift a 3rd Pro14 title in a row when they won their 3 interpros. The side had won every game of the season, including 4 European Cup games. It didn’t look like anything would stop them. Then game the global pandemic that stopped everything and brought about uncertainty.
The season got going again and Leinster were back to winning ways. Nobody can say this 7th Pro14/Pro12/Celtic League title isn’t deserved. Leinster used 53 players in this Pro14 campaign. They’ve won their last 25 matches in all competitions. Their academy is a machine, they are ruthless on the pitch, and now they’ve won the Pro14 for 3 years running. English sides Leicester and Wasps are the only other teams in Europes top 3 leagues to win a three-in-a-row this century (Leicester won the Premiership in 00, 01, 02, Wasps won in 03, 04, 05).
The game changed during a six minute spell early in the 2nd half. Ross Byrne kicked a penalty and Robbie Henshaw intercepted the ball on the halfway line and made his way to the try line. Suddenly the lead went from 5 points to 15, Ulster went from being one try away to two tries not being enough. Despite all the fight and positive signs in the first half, Ulster had an even bigger mountain to climb.
The stats show that despite having less possession and 42 less carries, Leinster gained more meters than Ulster. And the boys in blue were much more clinical. Ulster had chances in the first half and could have been further in front at halftime. They did take the lead early with a try from James Hume.
The conversion was missed, James Lowe replied, sauntering over the line after a well worked move. Byrne converted, Leinster were in front despite not necessarily being the better team. Byrne kicked another penalty to put Leinster 10 – 5 up.
Leinster had their magic 6 minute spell in the 2nd half when Byrne kicked a penalty then converted Henshaw’s intercept try. The game could have swung back in favour of the Ulstermen, Lyttle nearly intercepted a loose pass in his own half but couldn’t get away.
From there on it seemed inevitable that Leinster would push on. They smothered Ulster and worked their way up the field. Caelan Doris powered over the line to put the result beyond doubt.
After the game the interviews were composed. Leo Cullen spoke of enjoying the moment but said “There were things in our control we could have done better”. Gary Ringrose, captaining the side, was calm and knew there was a big game coming up. After last seasons European Cup final, nobody in that dressing room is taking their eyes of Saracens. It appears the bad patch after Schmidt left still haunts Leinster. They don’t take wins for granted, but they don’t sit on them. They are hungry for the European Cup this season.
Watching Leinster this season it’s hard to imagine anybody beating them. For two games in a row they have stopped a team from scoring for 70 minutes. But that won’t be the attitude in the dressing room. This isn’t a Leinster side that sits on it’s laurels. This is a Leinster side that wants Rugby domination.