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Leinster Comeback Gives Cullen A Winning Start

Leinster Comeback Gives Cullen A Winning Start

Leinster staged a well-judged second half comeback as they defeated Ulster 24-21 in Belfast to give new head coach Leo Cullen a winning start to his tenure.

PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY: Friday, August 21

ULSTER 21 LEINSTER 24, Kingspan Stadium

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Scorers: Ulster: Tries: Paul Marshall, Luke Marshall, Sam Arnold; Cons: Ian Humphreys 2, Sam Windsor
Leinster: Tries: Adam Byrne, Jack Conan, Dan Leavy, Bryan Byrne; Cons: Isa Nacewa 2

Paul Marshall and Luke Marshall scored well-taken tries to give Ulster a 14-5 half-time lead at Kingspan Stadium, but three tries from half-time replacements Jack Conan, Dan Leavy and Bryan Byrne saw Leinster claim a solid victory.

With Ireland coaches Joe Schmidt, Les Kiss and Richie Murphy watching on, the white-clad visitors opened the scoring in the sixth minute when Luke McGrath’s floated pass to the wing gave Adam Byrne a free run to the line. Young out-half Cathal Marsh was unable to add the extras from the touchline.

Ulster hit back on the half hour mark when scrum half Marshall tapped a quick penalty and forced his way over from close range. Ian Humphreys landed the conversion for a 7-5 lead.

Then, with half time approaching, Neil Doak’s men started to gain the upper hand and Luke Marshall took full advantage. The centre, who was an extremely productive ball carrier for the hosts in the first half, showed excellent footwork and acceleration to beat an initial defender and charge over down the right. Humphreys was again on target to extend the hosts’ advantage to 14-5 at half-time.

There were a raft of changes for both sides during the interval with both coaches deciding to make full use of their 33-man squads. It was the visitors who seemed to benefit most from the fresh legs, scoring two quickfire tries after the break.

Recent Ireland cap Conan and fellow back rower Leavy both crossed within seven minutes of the restart, with fellow replacement Isa Nacewa converting one to leave it 17-14 in Leinster’s favour.

The Leinster forwards powered their way into the Ulster 22 before Conan used his strength to barge over with 42 minutes on the clock. Steve Crosbie missed the conversion.

Ulster had replacement back rower Stephen Mulholland sin-binned on 45 minutes and Leo Cullen’s young charges took immediate advantage. They kicked the penalty to the corner and from the resulting lineout, they executed a prefect rolling maul to drive Leavy over.

With Mulholland still in the bin, Leinster got their fourth try on 53 minutes. Again they went to the corner from a penalty and this time it was replacement hooker Bryan Byrne that was propelled over the line.

The game became a bit disjointed in the final quarter with neither side looking particularly threatening. But that changed in the closing stages as, with Leinster losing Crosbie to the bin, Ulster pressed for a late breakthrough and eventually Sam Arnold crossed for a consolation score. Sam Windsor’s conversion reduced the arrears to three points.

ULSTER: Jack Owens; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Peter Nelson; Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall; Ruaidhri Murphy, Rob Herring (capt), Wiehahn Herbst, Peter Browne, Franco van der Merwe, Clive Ross, Sean Reidy, Robbie Diack.

Replacements: Andrew Warwick, John Andrew, Ricky Lutton, Bronson Ross, Alan O’Connor, Dan Tuohy, Conor Joyce, Frankie Taggart, Willie Faloon, Stephen Mullholland, Paul Rowley, David Shanahan, Sam Windsor, Jacob Stockdale, Stuart McCloskey, Sam Arnold, Louis Ludik, Mark Best.

LEINSTER: Billy Dardis; Darragh Fanning, Ben Te’o, Noel Reid, Adam Byrne; Cathal Marsh, Luke McGrath; Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Jamie Hagan, Tadhg Beirne, Tom Denton, Dominic Ryan (capt), Josh van der Flier, Tony Ryan.

Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Jeremy Loughman, Royce Burke Flynn, Gavin Thornbury, Peadar Timmins, Nick McCarthy, Steve Crobsie, Garry Ringrose, Bryan Byrne, Ed Byrne, Ross Molony, Mike McCarthy, Dan Leavy, Jack Conan, Ross Byrne, Mick McGrath, Collie O’Shea, Isa Nacewa.

Referee: Andy Brace (IRFU)