Ulster deserved the win over Leinster on Friday night there’s no doubt about it. There wasn’t much for supporters to cheer about in Belfast on Friday night and now the curtains are closing on one of Leinster’s poorest seasons in quite a few years. In my opinion it’s time for Matt O’Connor to go.
We’ve given Matt O’Connor plenty of time to prove he’s not hopeless. He has a team consisting of some of the most talented players in Europe and the world. Even though some of them may not be in flying form something has to be said for the dull, almost clumsy rugby Leinster have produced this year. Yes, there has been points when we thought they might have pulled it together in time but unfortunately it just hasn’t happened. O’Connor has proved he just is not right for Leinster and is potentially undoing the work of previous years. He lacks the ability to anticipate what other teams are doing and therefore cannot come up with a gameplan to counter attack. Leinster’s defence has been, at times, non-existent. Very few positives to take from this year.
As I said in my preview of the match, tries were to be expected. I also pointed out that Te’o was more or less the only one who showed an ability to score tries this season, and he did. Gopperth also played well and with a bit of heart too. We simply weren’t ready for Ulster, probably still hurt from the disheartening loss to Toulon. Leinster made a good start, holding on to possession and staying calm and collected. The first 20 minutes I thought were nearly the most exciting of the Pro12 this year. But the rain created problems for both teams early in the first half, making the ball greasy and the ground slippy. It made it difficult to play with the pace both teams were after but Ulster managed to pull away as I thought they would. A try from MOTM Iain Henderson and points from the boot of Ruan Pienaar put the home side into the lead.
HT score: ULS 13 – 10 LEI
Sean O’Brien ‘s yellow card was the result of his own frustration with how the match was playing out. While the player was not over the horizontal, O’Brien was clearly seen to recklessly throw the player towards the ground, unnecessarily endangering him. Kirchner I thought was pretty much innocent in it, it looked as if he took some of the player’s weight when O’Brien let him go. Rob Kearney was pinged for being off his feet at the ruck, and earned himself a yellow card in front of our own posts in the second half. Being a man down in the last quarter of the match was probably one the decisive moments of Leinster’s loss. I don’t remember the last Leinster match I watched where two of our players were sin binned. Again indiscipline cost Leinster dearly.
Pienaar and Jackson had even more of an influence during the second half, completely controlling the game. They were at their clinical best. Leinster’s lineout was not up to the usual standard and crucially there was a lack of support for Gopperth after a fantastic break over the halfway line. Ulster’s Craig Gilroy scored his 11th try of the Pro12 this year in the 72nd minute after a lovely inside pass from Paddy Jackson.
I reckon Reddan should have been brought on much earlier, Boss had a very poor game. He didn’t seem to be reacting quickly and clearing the ball out took much longer than necessary. Reddan injected a bit more tempo into Leinster’s game but it was too late to make much of a difference. Ulster’s defence prevented the boys in blue making any impact on the final score of the match.
FT score: ULS 26 – 10 LEI
So it’s not looking good for the boys in blue, there won’t be the packed out, blue skied scene of the RDS like there was last May. No glorious final. But with rugby comes good days and bad days, it’s all part of the package. The supporters just need to learn to enjoy the small victories and the good matches when they come. It can’t always be shining silverware and sparkling smiles. We can hope next year is better and I think it will be, but RWC 2015 won’t help Leinster’s cause with many of their players year in year out included in the Ireland squad. Only time will tell and I’ll be patiently waiting with my jersey on as always.