|Leinster (10) 27|
|Tries: Lowe, Henshaw, Doris Cons: R Byrne 2, Sexton Pens: R Byrne 2|
|Ulster (5) 5|
Leinster claimed their third consecutive Pro14 title and extended their undefeated season to 23 games with a 27-5 win over provincial rivals Ulster.
Ulster came into the game chasing their first silverware since their 2005-06 Celtic League triumph, and went ahead after four minutes through James Hume’s superb try.
James Lowe responded for heavily fancied Leinster before second-half tries from Robbie Henshaw and Caelan Doris took the game away from Ulster.
For Ulster, who asked questions of their opponent’s defence at various stages, it is a reminder that despite undoubted improvement in recent seasons there is still a way to go before they can be considered among Europe’s elite.
Despite running out comfortable winners Leinster will know there are areas of their game, particularly the line-out, that will need to be improved if they are to knock Saracens off their Champions Cup perch in next weekend’s quarter-final.
Leinster’s clinical edge missing in opening half
Leinster’s unbeaten season is owed in large part to a clinical efficiency when in scoring positions, with the province displaying an unrivalled ruthlessness in opposition territory.
The trait was on show again in Dublin, but not before the holders had been forced onto the back foot by a wonderful score from Hume, who was invited to exploit a mismatch in Leinster’s midfield as the centre flew between two Leinster forwards before holding off Lowe to put the underdogs ahead.
However, the lead lasted less than 10 minutes as Leinster made their way up to Ulster’s five-metre line before Jamison Gibson-Park whipped a pass out for Lowe, which evaded the attempted intercept of Rob Lyttle, allowing the Irish-qualified Leinster wing to cross in the corner.
As the half wore on, Ulster’s error count crept up, inviting Leinster to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
But aside from Ross Byrne’s penalty, Leo Cullen’s side were guilty of frequent inaccuracy as Ronan Kelleher saw his line-out picked off four times in the first half.
Ulster had their chance to go into the break with a lead as they pressed towards the line, but Leinster’s defence – led by excellent captain Garry Ringrose – held firm before Hume’s knock-on released the pressure.
Champions assert credentials in dominant second half
Ulster went into the break no doubt frustrated by their missed chances, but buoyed by the fact that the game remained firmly in the balance.
It felt almost cruel, then, that Leinster whipped it away in a suffocating opening eight minutes to the second half.
After Byrne landed his second penalty, Henshaw read Billy Burns’ wide pass, intended for Marcell Coetzee, plucked the ball out of the air and ran between the posts.
The back three of Lowe, Jordan Larmour and Hugo Keenan became greater threats with the ball in hand but Ulster managed to protect their try-line for the next 30 minutes, however going forward they were stifled by Leinster’s brutal line speed.
Half-backs Ian Madigan and John Cooney were brought on but couldn’t turn the tide against their former province, who in truth never looked like surrendering their advantage once Henshaw crossed.
The inaccuracy that had frustrated the champions in the first half appeared a distant memory as the game approached its conclusion as they again worked themselves into a scoring position before Doris put an exclamation mark on an outstanding personal campaign with the game’s final score.
Leinster: Larmour; Keenan, Ringrose (capt), Henshaw, Lowe; R Byrne, Gibson-Park; Healy, Kelleher, Porter; Toner, Ryan; Doris, Van der Flier, Conan.
Replacements: Tracy, E Byrne, Bent, Fardy, Connors, McGrath, Sexton, O’Loughlin.
Ulster: Lowry; Lyttle, Hume, McCloskey, Stockdale; Burns, Mathewson; O’Sullivan, Herring, O’Toole; O’Connor, Henderson (capt); Rea, Reidy, Coetzee.
Replacements: Andrew, McGrath, Moore, Carter, Murphy, Cooney, Madigan, Timoney.