Denis Hickie's 75th-minute try proved decisive in ending Ulster's 100% start to the Celtic League season on Saturday as Leinster fully merited their 30-23 defeat of the table-toppers.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Saturday, October 1
Leinster 30 Ulster 23, Donnybrook (Att: 6,500)
Scorers: Leinster: Tries: Ciaran Potts, Denis Hickie; Con: Felipe Contepomi; Pens: Contepomi 6
Ulster: Tries: Paddy Wallace, Neil Best; Con: David Humphreys 2; Pens: Humphreys 3
Hickie, making his first start for Leinster since coming back off the Lions tour, went from villian to hero after his second-minute error had allowed Paddy Wallace in for an Ulster try. However, the St Mary's man had the final say in a pulsating derby as he wriggled through Neil Best's missed tackle to all but kill off the Ulster challenge.
There was still time for Ulster prop Bryan Young to be sin-binned and for a penalty apiece from kickers Felipe Contepomi, who top-scored with 20 points, and David Humphreys, but Ulster's three-game winning run was at an end.
Mark McCall's men, who still sit fourth with just a single point separating the league's top four sides, got the perfect start when Hickie fumbled as he retrieved Kieran Campbell's box kick. James Topping charged up on Hickie and right-footed the loose ball towards the Leinster line for full-back Wallace to pounce on and score.
Humphreys converted but the silly errors which saw Ulster end last season as the most penalised team in the league allowed wind-backed Leinster to recover.
Contepomi landed penalties after five and 16 minutes to reduce the arrears to 7-6.
With Leinster's new lock signing - Kiwi Bryce Williams - ruling in the lineout, Michael Cheika's outfit gradually gained a foothold on territory and were over the Ulster line only for Kevin Maggs to hold up his Ireland colleague Hickie.
Leinster got their first try on 21 minutes when young flanker Ciaran Potts brusged off a weak tackle from Wallace to cross in the left corner from Contepomi's pass. Although Leinster lost scrum-half Guy Easterby to concussion, Contepomi's third penalty and an injury-time miss from Humphreys allowed them take a 14-7 advantage into the break.
While the second half's first quarter was dominated by two penalties apiece from Contepomi and Humphreys, both Topping, who superbly shepherded Robert Kearney into touch, and Tommy Bowe had to be at their sharpest to keep out Leinster tries.
For all their ball-retention and potency, Leinster were left smarting when, armed with a 20-13 lead, they allowed Humphreys, with a wide arching pass, to put flanker Best over in the right corner after 69 minutes for his third try in two games.
Ulster were back in it with Humphreys' conversion squaring things up at 20-20.
Yet Leinster, unbeaten at Donnybrook in the last 18 months, and with another Lion Gordon D'Arcy having come off the bench, powered back up the other end for Hickie to score his 19th league try and join Derrick Lee and Matthew Watkins at the top of the Celtic scoring charts.
LEINSTER: Girvan Dempsey; Denis Hickie, Shane Horgan, Felipe Contepomi (Capt), Robert Kearney (Gordon D'Arcy 67); Christian Warner, Guy Easterby (Brian O'Meara 34); Reggie Corrigan, Bernard Jackman (David Blaney 67), Will Green, Bryce Williams, Ben Gissing (Des Dillon 67), Ciaran Potts (Eric Miller half-time), Keith Gleeson, Jamie Heaslip.
ULSTER: Paddy Wallace; Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Kevin Maggs, James Topping (Tyrone Howe 64); David Humphreys, Kieran Campbell; Justin Fitzpatrick (Bryan Young 60), Rory Best (Paul Shields 67), Simon Best (Capt), Justin Harrison, Matt McCullough (Rowan Frost 60), Neil Best, Neil McMillan, Roger Wilson.
Referee: Olan Trevor (IRFU); Sin-bin: Bryan Young (Ulster) (78 mins)