Tonight at the RDS Ulster once again fell at the penultimate hurdle in the Guinness Pro12, losing out to a clinical Leinster side despite a spirited second-quarter fightback which had seen Les Kiss's men claw back 11 points on the bounce.
Two Craig Gilroy tries proved insufficient as home scores from Isa Nacewa, Jamie Heaslip and Sean Cronin, backed up by 15 points from the sharpshooting boot of Johnny Sexton, gave Leinster a deserved victory - and yet another play-off final with either Connacht or Glasgow Warriors standing in the way of a fifth Celtic league title.
Kiss fielded a side unchanged from the 23 which had dispatched the Ospreys in Cardiff to secure the play-off place, with flanker Chris Henry thereby reaching a personal milestone of 150 provincial caps.
Jared Payne - a try-scorer in the 30 - 6 defeat of Leinster last month - lined up at the base of an all-international back seven, with Andrew Trimble and Gilroy on the wings, Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey in the centre, and Paddy Jackson partnering Ruan Pienaar in the half-back slots.
Callum Black, Rory Best and Ricky Lutton made up the front row, with Pete Browne and Franco van der Merwe in the engine room, Iain Henderson joining Henry at flanker, and Sean Reidy continuing at Number Eight.
The first real duel of the evening saw Luke Fitzgerald win a 50-50 aerial challenge with Trimble, and after a poor clearance from Pienaar which failed to breach his own '22', Leinster skipper Nacewa dodged tackles from Gilroy, Payne and then Marshall to just bundle over in the corner, Sexton adding the extras.
A much-improved clearance from Pienaar as McCloskey broke down Leinster's next attack won Ulster a brief breather, but two penalties from Sexton were soon to follow, first when Henry failed to roll away on 10 minutes, then when McCloskey strayed offside five minutes later.
Ulster enjoyed their first spell of possession and territorial advantage just before the 20-minute mark, with good ball-carrying from Lutton and Marshall in particular before Henderson was forced into touch a mere three metres from home.
Better still from the visitors saw Reidy chasing down Gilroy's grubber kick to the line only to lose out to Eoin Reddan, but a Jackson penalty soon opened the Ulster account and, after some formidable running from Henderson with both Sexton and Richardt Strauss hanging off his shoulders, a Leinster hand in the ruck gifted the Ulster out-half the simplest of kicks for 13 - 6 on 32 minutes.
After weathering a brief Leinster reaction with Nacewa again the danger man, Ulster closed out the half on top, Gilroy squeezing just in by the left-hand corner flag under Dave Kearney's tackle to register his ninth league try of the season - bringing the winger to joint-top in the Pro12 alongside Connacht's Matt Healey.
Half-Time Score Leinster 13 Ulster 11
A high tackle from Garry Ringrose on Payne gave Ulster the ball early in the second period, and yet another barnstorming Henderson charge kept the momentum going until ferocious tackling from Leinster eventually broke up play on 46 minutes.
The flair with which the Leinstermen then transformed defence into attack was little short of breathtaking, with Ringrose instrumental on a diagonal run before picking out Sexton, who in turn fed Kearney, with Heaslip resisting Jackson's lunge to finish off the move in the corner, Sexton again converting.
A Sexton penalty stretched the Leinster lead to 12 points just before the hour, and as the hosts' authority on the contest became more and more evident, three successive scrums culminated in the killer blow from Cronin, the replacement hooker barging through Pienaar and van der Merwe to ground from close range.
Sexton's conversion duly dispatched, Ulster responded with gusto, Gilroy touching down his second of the night - and tenth of the campaign - off a Pienaar pass from the back of a 10-metre scrum, with Jackson wasting no time on his conversion with 11 minutes remaining.
Still two converted tries away from the prospect of snatching victory, Ulster toiled in midfield as the consummately professional Leinster did their best to slow play down, with the closest the visitors came to the breakthrough a wide raid from replacement Stuart Olding, who the ever-assiduous blue defence dumped into touch to definitively put paid to any slim Ulster hopes.
Full-Time Score Leinster 30 Ulster 18
Leinster (15 - 9) Isa Nacewa (c); Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose, Ben Te'o, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan
(1 - 8) Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Mick Kearney, Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip
Replacements (16 - 23) Sean Cronin, Peter Dolley, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, Jack Conan, Luke McGrath, Ian Madigan, Zane Kirchner
Ulster (15 - 9) Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar
(1 - 8) Callum Black, Rory Best (c), Ricky Lutton, Pete Browne, Franco van der Merwe, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Sean Reidy
Replacements (16 - 23) Rob Herring, Kyle McCall, Andrew Warwick, Robbie Diack, Roger Wilson, Paul Marshall, Stuart Olding, Darren Cave