It may have been a dead rubber match but it proved highly entertaining at the Kingspan Stadium as Ulster defeated Leinster by a single score.
Both sides struggled in the opening stages to get a foothold in the game as a swirling wind around the Kingspan Stadium made for an error-strewn game.
Fergus McFadden got away with one when he made contact with the head of Sean Reidy before dropping a relatively easy high ball after being deceived by the wind, However Ulster were unable to take advantage of the scrum in strong field position.
It took 30 minutes but eventually, the deadlock was broken. Jimmy O’Brien raced over the line making up for an earlier mistake. It was a classic Leinster try who played through the phases before a beautiful offload from the departing Jack McGrath allowed Ross Byrne to fire an inch-perfect skip pass across to O’Brien who raced over the line.
Ross Byrne missed the conversion and it would prove costly no more than two minutes later when Ulster equalised from the kick-off. Darren Cave and Michael Lowry were involved in the move but it was all Dave Shanahan who raced over to level matters before Johnny McPhillips edged the home side in front.
As the first-half drew to a close, Byrne kicked a penalty to edge Leinster back in front before a try from Fergus McFadden in the 43rd minute sent them in five points in front at half-time.
Ulster dominated proceedings in the second half going through phase after phase inside their opponents 22. However, the Leinster men defended excellently, managing to hold the northerners at bay until debut man, Marcus Rea, crashed over for Ulster. Replacement out-half, Peter Nelson then nailed the conversion to put Ulster one-point in front with 18 minutes remaining.
Leinster battled hard but Rea’s score proved to be the match winner as Ulster gave a rousing home support something to cheer about heading into next weekend’s semi-final qualifier with Connacht.
Ulster: Michael Lowry; David Busby, Darren Cave (captain), Peter Nelson, Angus Kernohan; Johnny McPhillips, Dave Shanahan; Andy Warwick, John Andrew, Ross Kane, Ian Nagle, Alan O’Connor, Matty Rea, Clive Ross, Sean Reidy.
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Tommy O’Hagan, Tom O’Toole, Nick Timoney, Marcus Rea, Jonny Stewart, Jack Owens, Rob Lyttle.
Leinster: Jimmy O’Brien; Fergus McFadden, Joe Tomane, Noel Reid, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne (c), Nick McCarthy; Jack McGrath, Bryan Byrne, Michael Bent; Josh Murphy, Oisín Dowling, Max Deegan, Will Connors, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Peter Dooley, Vakh Abdaladze, Ryan Baird, Scott Penny, Paddy Patterson, Ciarán Frawley, Barry Daly.