Tag Archives: ulster

Leinster Complete Unbeaten Pro14 Season

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.

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Leinster and Ulster face Off In The Pro14 Final

Despite this years Pro14 final being between two teams with drastically different trophy cabinets, it’s far from a foregone conclusion.

Ulster last won what was then the Celtic League (long before Italians or South Africans had joined) in 2006. There was no play-off series, the title was decided in the regular season. And Ulster clinched it with a last minute drop goal. Since then Ulster have been trophy-less. They made a final in 2013, just a year after making the Heineken Cup final. On both occasions, they were beaten by their opponents today.

Contrasting this with Leinster, they’ve gone from nearly men, to serial winners, to lost without hop, back to serial winners since Ulster last earned silverware. Despite winning the first version of the league in 2002, Leinster gained a reputation for missing opportunities. Finally they’d lift the league again in 2008, before a run of winning 3 European Cups in 4 seasons, followed by a Challenge Cup and back to back league titles. Things went south when Joe Schmidt took the Ireland job. In 2015 Leinster failed to make the play-offs for the first time, lost the final the following year, and were knocked out in the semi-finals the year after. It seemed the good times were over. However they have since won a European Cup and League double, and regained the league title, only the 2nd time that’s happened.

Ulster go into the game looking for what would be a deserved trophy this season, their first in 14 years. Leinster are looking for an unprecedented 3 in a row. Both sides may face into a European Cup Quarter Final next weekend against European Giants (who are having very different experiences right now).

The road here has been different but in the end we have the two best teams based on the season. Ulster were impressive in the early parts of the season, and scored the most points against Leinster in the RDS this season, more than anybody has in a long time, despite losing the game. They struggled after the lockdown, looking sluggish against Connacht and Leinster. However you could argue they were reluctant to show their hand ahead of the semi-final they knew they would be in, and the European Cup. Ulster looked dead and buried in the semi-final against Edinburgh (another side who would be worthy of the title of 2nd best team this season), but they showed they could stand up, coming back to win the game with a last minute penalty.

Leinster on the other hand have had a more straight forward journey. 24 wins on the bounce in all competitions. Unbeaten all season. Many games, particularly in Dublin, have seemed inevitable. What Leinster have been good at this season is edging the first half, and blowing away sides in the 2nd half.

The key for Ulster is staying in the game. If they do that they can push on. Leinster have had a habit this season of landing killer blows either side of halftime. That’s when Ulster need to concentrate and defend with their lives. If Leinster can impose their game on the Ulstermen, the result will be inevitable. The replacements will be key, with both teams having their starting halfbacks on the bench.

One things for sure, the trophy will be going to an Irish side for the 8th time in 12 seasons.

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