The Ulster starting XV charged with trying to deprive Leinster of their record-breaking third European crown from four campaigns lined up at full strength, with John Afoa returning from a four-match ban, and Chris Henry fully rehabilitated from the ankle injury which kept him out of last month's semi-final victory over Edinburgh.
Regardless of the result, it was always going to be an emotion day at Twickenham, as the final represented the last outing in an Ulster shirt for starters Stefan Terblanche and Pedrie Wannenburg and replacements Willie Faloon and Ian Humphreys, as well as Brian McLaughlin's final game as Head Coach.
As play kicked off in London, an early scrum and penalty in Ulster's favour got them well into Leinster territory as Pienaar kicked for touch, and a third-minute burst from Darren Cave exploited some early vulnerability in the Leinster defence before the centre's run was snuffed out inside the '22'. Ulster's strong start continued, however, and a second penalty on six minutes allowed Pienaar to open scoring from the left touchline.
An Ulster steal at a 10th-minute Leinster lineout was followed by the cheap concession of possession almost immediately, and the men in blue wasted no time in punishing their opponents' carelessness, Sean O'Brien touching down on the line after strong recycling. Jonathan Sexton's conversion extended the lead to Leinster 7 Ulster 3.
Sexton missed the opportunity to add three more points moments later with a wayward penalty from distance, and as Ulster rebuilt, superb crossfield offloading eventually found Terblanche, who only just ran out of space on the left wing a handful of metres from the line. As the final burst into life on 21 minutes, play raced down the other end, with first Fergus McFadden and then Isa Nacewa thwarted on their respective wings by timely Ulster tackling.
The second Leinster score came on 31 minutes, grounded by Cian Healy after a sublime inside pass from Brian O'Driscoll and trademark ball-carrying from the powerful O'Brien. Sexton's conversion was on target and the score rose to Leinster 14 Ulster 3. Then Paddy Jackson only narrowly missed a drop goal attempt four minutes later, his kick fizzing just centimetres wide of the left-hand post.
The half closed with the award of a penalty to Ulster metres inside their own half, and with the clock already in the red Pienaar elected to shoot for goal from 58 metres. It proved the right decision, as the Springbok's superb long-range kicking form endured, and the ball split the posts.
Half-Time Score Leinster 14 Ulster 6
Leinster opened the second half on the offensive, and a 22-metre lineout gave them the incentive to drive on for the line. With Tom Court adjudged to have illegally brought down the maul just shy of the line, Mr Owens awarded the penalty try and Sexton was on hand again to add the extras, making it Leinster 21 Ulster 6.
Pienaar and Sexton then traded penalties either side of the 50-minute mark, and with Humphreys now in the fray in lieu of Jackson, Ulster put together their best onslaught of the match thus far, with Afoa threatening on the right wing before play was called back for a penalty just in front of the posts. Johann Muller called for the scrum in preference to a mere three points, but the chance soon evaporated with a forward pass and Sexton was able to clear Leinster lines.
However the clearance lacked distance, and from the lineout Ulster pushed, probed and started anew until Tuohy eventually forced his way over on the hour mark, after outstanding work from Terblanche and Paddy Wallace in particular. Pienaar's conversion kick span wide, but the gap was down to 10 at Leinster 24 Ulster 14.
With 15 minutes remaining Leinster sought to kill the game off, and with Ulster penalised for illegally going off their feet inside their own '22', the clinical Sexton kicked three more points with ease to keep the Ulstermen at arm's length. Frustration began to set in as the clock counted down, and with Terblanche sinbinned for a dangerous tackle on 72 minutes, Sexton's kick finished Ulster off at Leinster 30 Ulster 14.
Heinke van der Merwe compounded the Ulster misery on 76 minutes by touching down by the right-hand post, and although Fergus McFadden's conversion kick missed by some distance, Sean Cronin still had time to punish Ulster further with the final play of the 2012 tournament, converted by McFadden as Mr Owens readied his whistle.
Disappointment for Ulster, then, and elation for their opponents as Leinster rewrote the record books. Ulster, however, will take heart from the achievement of making it all the way to the European final for the first time in 13 years, and will strive to go one better than this year's runners-up medals in 2012 - 13.
"We started exceptionally well, but you have to take your chances," said Ulster Head Coach Brian McLaughlin post-match
"Leinster's defence was rock-solid, and they did a fantastic job. The scoreline may have flattered them a bit, but give Leinster an inch and they will take a mile. We have to learn from this." he added
Full-Time Score Leinster 42 Ulster 14
(15- 9) S Terblanche; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar
(1- 8) T Court, R Best, J Afoa; J Muller (c), D Tuohy; S Ferris, C Henry, P Wannenburg
Replacements (16 - 23) N Brady, P McAllister, D Fitzpatrick, L Stevenson, W Faloon, P Marshall, I Humphreys, A D'Arcy
(15- 9) R Kearney; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan
(1- 8) C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen (c), B Thorn; K McLaughlin, S O'Brien, J Heaslip
Replacements (16 - 23) S Cronin, H van der Merwe, N White, D Toner, S Jennings, J Cooney, I Madigan, D Kearney
|Leinster Rugby Score Card|
|Heinke Van der Merwe||1||5|
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|