The Irish Mail on Sunday


- By Mikey Stafford RABODIRECT PRO12 S-F RDS

AS A dazed Brian O’Driscoll left the field to a standing ovation his team-mates knew they had 30 minutes to overturn a nine-point deficit and prolong their talisman’s career until the last day of May.

Stunned after running head first into Iain Henderson’s hip, the soon-to-be-retired O’Driscoll will now have an opportunit­y to go out on a high at home against Glasgow in the PRO12 final. Thanks to the man who replaced him, Ian Madigan.

The Leinster out-half capped a wonderful comeback and a remarkable game of rugby with a try eight minutes from time, which condemned Ulster to a fourth knockout defeat to the defending champions in as many seasons.

It was the man who has stymied his progress, Jimmy Gopperth, who supplied Madigan with the ball but the Ireland star still had to cut inside Jared Payne and shrug off the tackle of Craig Gilroy before touching down.

It was hard not to feel for Ulster, who had led from the seventh minute to the 72nd and when the man n marked as O’Driscoll’s s successor, Payne, yne, knocked on with ith the line in sight, you knew it was not the day for Irish rugby’s bridesmaid­s to o get hitched.

Not much separated the teams on the penalty count, but Ulster were short of discipline in all the right places, while the home side allowed Paddy y Jackson, who went off injured red before the hour ur mark, to put them hem into a nine-point int lead. Leinster’s ’s first kickable penalty came midway through the second half and Gopperth reduced the deficit to six. By this stage Leo Cullen, Sean O’Brien and Mike Ross had been wheeled out as Leinster tried desperatel­y to save their season.

The cavalry charge had an almost immediate effect. One good kick from Gopperth, a lineout steal and a penalty reduced it to a three-point game.

But Mark Anscombe’s Ulster were not going to go quietly and Leinster performed a miracle turnover on their own tryline and forced a penalty from the resulting scrum. Dave Kearney was carried off, struggling with a leg injury that looks likely to rule him out of the tour to Argentina

A first first-half half of fiesty flashpoint­s, occasional brilliance a and more frequent sloppiness w was bookended by Jackson pen penalties, providing the visitors are 6-0 half-time lead. Wonderfull­y enterta entertaini­ng, despite a lack of any discernabl­e phased play, the opening 25 minutes were dominated by Ulster. They led a after seven minutes w when Jackson t tapped over a short ra range penalty a after Leinste Leinster failed to roll aw away while defen defending their line. Eo Eoin Reddan was enduring a sha shaky return to action. Out in injured since t the loss to Toulon last month, the scrum-half was guilty o of four loo loose kicks as he stru struggled to find his range.

When they were beaten at this venue in last season’s PRO12 final Ulster could point to the erratic refereeing of John Lacey as an excuse but here both sides had issues with Leighton Hodge’s decision making.

The Welsh whistler let Fergus McFadden away with a ticking off when he tackled Andrew Trimble in the air, while Leinster should surely have been awarded a kickable penalty when they drove the Ulster scrum back — Hodges instead inexplicab­ly interpreti­ng their rapid forward progress as going to ground.

The few forays into the Ulster 22 that Leinster did enjoy were rebuffed or butchered. Henderson perpetrate­d one massive turnover, while O’Driscoll twice lost possession, once in the tackle and once when an attempted kick to corner went straight to Tommy Bowe.

The Ireland winger called a mark and when he tried to clear the ball Gordon D’Arcy (right) stupidly blocked him off with a shoulder barge.

Few could complain with Hodge’s decision to reach for the yellow card. Three points was the extent of the damage inflicted upon the 14 men, with Jackson tapping over another short-range penalty, awarded for offside, to round out the half. But the drama was only starting, one more performanc­e remains. Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden (Z Kirchner 67), B O’Driscoll (I Madigan 50), G D’Arcy, D Kearney (L McGrath 69); J Gopperth, E Reddan; C Healy (J McGrath 66), S Cronin (A Dundon 79), M Moore (M Ross 56); D Toner, Q Roux (L Cullen 53); R Ruddock (S O’Brien 56), S Jennings, J Heaslip (capt) scorers – try: Madigan Pens: Gopperth (2) Con: Gopperth YeLLow Card: G D’Arcy 34’ ULster: C Gilroy; T Bowe, J Payne, D Cave (L Marshall 56), A Trimble; P Jackson (J McKinney 56), R Pienaar; C Black, R Best, R Lutton (A Warwick 61); J Muller (D Tuohy 58), I Henderson; R Diack, C Henry (S Doyle 69), R Wilson scorers – Pens: Jackson (3). referee: Leighton Hodges (WRU)

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 ??  ?? GOLDEN WONDER: ian Madigan made a vital impact impact with a try off the bench
GOLDEN WONDER: ian Madigan made a vital impact impact with a try off the bench
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