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Ulster Rugby (6) 13 - 30 (20) Leinster Rugby
Ravenhill, Belfast
Monday, 27th December 2010, 16:00

The OLSC brought 3 bus loads of post-Christmas revellers to Belfast. No-one can dispute the welcome that always awaits the Mexicans when they travel north of the border but there are a couple of other things that always come to mind when we start to think about our annual trip up north - the bus and the weather. The bus journey has become the stuff of legend and possibly a few myths exist at this stage. There was the year when the bus got lost and ended up in the grounds of Stormont and another when on taking a wrong turn off Ravenhill road we ended up facing into a parade and having to reverse the whole way back out. On another occasion the weather got the better of the transport and the bus had to return to Dublin minus a window wiper. With the fixture often set for the festive period to reduce the travel burden on players and supporters the weather is usually inclement to say the least. Driving rain and freezing cold go hand in hand with visits to Ravenhill so it's no surprise then that these derbies tend not to be high scoring try-fests. The last four trips up north have seen the sides separated by a total of ten points, with two of those four ending all-square. This year it was thought that the weather might have an even greater impact than usual on the fixture but hard work by the Ulster ground staff and supporters on St. Stephen's day successfully cleared the pitch and with a successful bus journey behind them the travelling blues took their positions around the ground.

Leinster started on the defensive with Ulster showing a determination to keep ball in hand from the off. They conceded two penalties for holding on in this period - the first which Nacewa kicked left and short and the second, from a similar position, which Shaun Berne kicked to the corner. Leinster pressure eventually led to a line break from Sean O'Brien - the tackle was initially missed by Botha and then after a hand-off on Pienaar he was over under the sticks. Nacewa successfully converted. Leinster pressure continued from the re-start with a break from Boss bringing play straight back into the Ulster half. It looked like this period of pressure might go unrewarded when Leinster were eventually penalised under the Ulster posts, but O'Connor failed to find touch and Nacewa ran the ball back again. Sean O' Brien was over for his and Leinster's second in the 15th minute after Boss broke around the fringes of a ruck and offloaded to the supporting back-rower. Nacewa again converted.

Fergus McFadden thought he was through for Leinster's third just 3 minutes later but the pass from Berne was adjudged forward and Ulster had a scrum on their own 10 metre line. This led to a period of pressure from Ulster and they earned a penalty inside the Leinster half. They kicked to touch and had their first attacking platform with a line-out just inside Leinster's 22. A knock on from the defending side several phases later gave Ulster another scrum. Leinster were penalised and this time Ulster took their points through the boot of O'Connor. The gap was back to 14 six minutes later after Ulster conceded a penalty. A clever kick through from Nacewa had given Ulster a defensive line-out 10 metres out. The ball was stolen by van der Merwe as Ulster attempted to set their maul from that line-out and one phase later the penalty was conceded by Chris Henry.

Ulster pressurised from the re-start. The ball was initially cleanly taken by Leinster but Shane Horgan was judged to be ahead of Boss's clearance kick. Ulster kicked the penalty to touch and continued to pressurise for the resulting line-out. Leinster's defence held firm until, after they appeared to have turned the ball over, Sean O'Brien was penalised for playing the ball on the ground and O'Connor added another 3 points for Ulster. There were a couple more promising moves from Leinster before half-time. A run from Shaun Berne with an offload to Dave Kearney almost saw him through but unfortunately the winger put a foot in touch. When Devin Toner stole the resulting line-out Leinster brought play right up to Ulster's line but they knocked on in a ruck and Ulster were given a chance to clear with a scrum. Leinster were given a free-kick for an early engage from Ulster and went for a scrum. Ulster were penalised for not binding and Nacewa kicked the penalty. Leinster went in at half-time 14 points ahead.

The second half started with more pressure from Leinster but eventually a penalty conceded by Ruddock gave Ulster a chance to clear. They failed to find touch however and Nacewa ran straight back at them. Dominic Ryan failed to hold a low pass from Berne giving Ulster a scrum and another chance to relieve the pressure. It was not relieved for long though as an intercept by McFadden went through the hands of O'Driscoll and Horgan, before a clever kick ahead by Horgan was carried over the line by Craig Gilroy giving Leinster an attacking scrum on Ulster's 5 metre line. Ulster were penalised for going straight down and Nacewa kicked the penalty to increase Leinster's lead to 17.

Leinster possession continued and a penalty after a deliberate knock-on from Adam D'Arcy was kicked to touch by Berne to bring them back into Ulster's 22. Leinster forwards took play from the line-out to the Ulster line before the ball went out wide through the hands for Shane Horgan to cross in the corner. Nacewa added the extras to bring the score to 30-6 in favour of the visitors.

The sides traded turnovers with Leinster still having the bulk of the possession. When Berne was penalised for holding on, O'Connor sent the ball deep into Leinster territory. Leinster stole the line-out but a poor pass from McFadden put Berne under pressure and a forward pass from him gave Ulster the scrum and possession. Leinster were penalised at the scrum and O'Connor again kicked for territory. A knock-on gave possession back to Leinster and when Ulster were penalised for not releasing in the tackle, Berne sent play back towards half-way. Leinster pushed forward in search of a fourth try and the bonus point. A knock-on from Ruddock gave the ball back from Ulster and, as they had started the match, they elected to keep ball in hand and run from their own 22. Their bravery was rewarded as Tuohy and D'Arcy exchanged passes running from within their own half before D'Arcy passed to Gilroy to cross in the corner. O'Connor converted to bring Ulster's total to 13.

Ulster continued to run the ball from the re-start. This was probably their best period since the opening minutes of the match. They earned a penalty in front of the Leinster posts which they opted to scrum. The ball was sent wide early from the scrum but an almost-intercept from Nacewa put an end to the move and gave Ulster another scrum. They failed to capitalise on this late possession and when penalised they gave Leinster one more chance to push for the bonus point. It came to nothing and an accidental offside gave George Clancy the break to blow for full time.

The game broke the pattern both by being played in the dry and, perhaps as a result, in the gap between the teams on the scoreboard. Another impressive performance from Leinster but some will say another bonus point left behind. It doesn't get any easier in the new year with a visit from the western Province first up who always raise their game and make life difficult for the other Irish teams followed by a visit from Ospreys who must be on a high after trouncing Scarlets in their own Derby. But as of now we are in the top four which is where we need to be and we now need to build on cementing this into the new year.

Match Statistics

Ulster Rugby
Leinster Rugby
Tries Gilroy (69)

Sean O'Brien (7, 15),
Horgan (57)
Conversions O'Connor

Nacewa (3)
Penalties O'Connor (2)

Nacewa (3)

Teams Adam D'Arcy
15 Isa Nacewa
Craig Gilroy
14 Shane Horgan
Nevin Spence
13 Brian O'Driscoll
Ian Whitten
12 Fergus McFadden
Simon Danielli
11 Dave Kearney
Niall O'Connor
10 Shaun Berne
Ruan Pienaar
9 Isaac Boss

Paddy McAllister
1 Heinke van der Merwe
Nigel Brady
2 Jason Harris-Wright
BJ Botha
3 Mike Ross
Johann Muller (C)
4 Leo Cullen (C)
Dan Tuohy
5 Devin Toner
Pedrie Wannenburg
6 Rhys Ruddock
Chris Henry
7 Dominic Ryan
Robbie Diack
8 Sean O'Brien

Replacements Andi Kyriacou (for Brady, 52)
16 Aaron Dundon (for Harris-Wright, 73)
Declan Fitzpatrick (for Botha, 71)
17 Jack McGrath (for van der Merwe, 71)
Bryan Young (for McAllister, 52)
18 Clint Newland (for Ross, 75)
Tim Barker (for Diack, 58)
19 Ed O'Donoghue
Willie Faloon (for Henry, 64)
20 Ben Marshall (for O'Brien, 71)
Paul Marshall (for O'Connr, 71)
21 Paul O'Donohue (for Berne, 73)
Luke Marshall (for Whitten, 64)
22 Ian Madigan (for O'Driscoll, 64)
Tommy Seymour (for Pienaar, 75)
23 Andrew Conway (for Kearney, 66)
Not Considered
due to Injury
Rory Best,
Stephen Ferris,
Ian Humphries

Stan Wright,
Kevin McLaughlin,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Rob Kearney,
Paul Ryan

by Yvonne Kelly, © 2010-12-29