On what was to be one of the coldest nights of the year so far, the rugby did very little to warm the supporters at the RDS. The match was a really boring exhibition of lack of ambition or variation in terms of attacking rugby. The first half was a bit more exciting with both sides looking to release their backs, but this often resulted in both sides merely shifted the ball through the hands from side to side and then becoming isolated. Leinster wasted numerous opportunities in the Ulster 22, and a more clinical side should have been out of touch by half time considering the amount of possession and territory that they had. The sole try of the match came from a maul in the first half, which Croinin finished off. Worrying for Leinster supporters was Sexton’s kicking game; he missed the conversion following the try and also had some poor kicks out of hand. However, he did seem to look a lot sharper with the ball in hand, and managed a huge shift in defence. The second half was a really dour forty minutes of rugby. This is summed up by how there wasn’t a single point scored in that period.
There were some positives to take from the game for a Leinster supporter. Firstly, a win against Ulster should not be underestimated. In the past Ulster have regularly proved difficult for Leinster. On top of this, they were in a similar position to Leinster going in to the game, in that they desperately needed a win to rejuvenate their slow start to the season. It is usually a sign of a good team to grind out a result even when they are not playing well.
Another positive was the young players who featured. Van Der Flier, was in my opinion the man of the match, as he carried strongly and managed an almost impossible number of turnovers, right up until the end of the match. Ringrose once again proved a spark in attack and a rock in defence when he entered the fray late in the second half. These players showcased the extraordinary talent Leinster is able to produce through their academy and schools system. The only issue now is how Leinster will manage to keep hold of all these talented players.
The overwhelming feeling leaving the match was that the state of Irish rugby was really declining. We have been spoiled the last fifteen years by the success of Irish clubs, but from the evidence of the first two rounds of the European Cup, it seems that they are now no longer the force they used to be. I cannot imagine that Toulon, when they review the footage ahead of our double bill against them, will be too worried. Also concerning from a Leinster perspective is that this was pretty much their full strength side. Apart from one or two players, this was a team that could be similar to the one that appears against Toulon in two weeks time. That is a truly scary prospect considering their demolition of Clermont, away, over the weekend.