LEINSTER HEAD COACH Matt O’Connor was a beaten man when he took his seat in the post-match press conference following the 26 -10 defeat at the hands of Ulster.
His day had started with a public admonishing from Joe Schmidt, who picked apart one of O’Connor’s main complaints in what has been a difficult second season at the helm for the Australian.
His day finished with Ulster coming from 10 points to win convincingly and all but end Leinster’s hope of making the Pro12 semi-finals. A second tough away fixture in heavy rain within the space of five days is an almost unsurmountable task at this level of the game. And so Ulster were the side biding their time, waiting for their guests to fade before cracking them open for good.
“Full credit to Ulster, I thought they wore us down,” says the Australian.
“They knew they would have the advantage on the back of the freshness and what we’ve been through over the last little period. They probably made that pay in the last 15 minutes.”
Trailing 13 – 10 at half-time, the deficit was the same going past the hour. But when two handling errors bounced back Ulster’s way, Louis Ludik made sure to make the rub of the green count and the South African fullback slipped Gordon D’Arcy’s tackle behind the gainline before making his break to the 22. The offload was seamless to Tommy Bowe and although Rob Kearney hauled his international team-mate down at the five metre line, referee John Lacey opted to hand Kearney a card for his efforts to kill the ball at the breakdown.
Leinster were also left feeling hard done by after Ulster’s opening try. Nobody more so than Sean O’Brien who remonstrated with Lacey, believing he had blocked his path to stand in the defensive line, while Iain Henderson was cross the try-line.
“It certainly looked like Sean O’Brien was blocked in that play. I was a bit surprised that he didn’t go upstairs and have a look at how much impact that had on the try being scored.”
Asked about the impact of the quick turnaround between games, O’Connor acknowledged the difficulty, but made no effort to take credit away from Ulster on a night when Neil Doak’s side were a dominant force once they got through a shaky opening 10 minutes.
“The emotion of it and the challenge of coming up here on a five-day turnaround against a team playing for a semi-final… and the advantage of a home final is huge motivation for them.
“We were a little bit off the pace. And from that end you’re going to struggle against a side as good as Ulster are.”
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