A strong Ulster line-up at the RDS was bolstered by the recovery of RuanPienaar, Chris Henry and Nick Williams from injury, and the return of Rory Best and Craig Gilroy to provincial duty after a well-earned post-Six Nations rest. Meanwhile, Ricky Lutton won his first full cap at tighthead, and promising Academy prop Kyle McCall earned himself a place on the replacements bench.
The Ulstermen made by far the stronger start, an energetic burst from Andrew Trimble off the line-out bringing the visitors to metres from the Leinster line, although the hosts displayed commendable resistance to keep several Ulster forays at bay. As the early stages progressed, Ulster thrived at successive scrums and would have felt somewhat aggrieved to reach the 10-minute mark with nothing to show for their domination.
Indeed, it was Leinster who were first on the scoresheet, courtesy of a central penalty on 15 minutes from Ian Madigan, who was on target again just three minutes later from distance. Undeterred by the points deficit, Ulster surged forward again at the opening of the second quarter, and this time were not to be halted, as Diack picked up Paddy Jackson's long looping pass to touch down by the left-hand corner flag. Pienaar's conversion attempt veered just wide of the posts to leave his side one point adrift at Leinster 6 Ulster 5.
Further Ulster indiscipline on 25 minutes allowed Madigan to re-extend the lead from in front of the posts, but the visitors continued to play the more fluent rugby, and Gilroy was only denied a 28th-minute score when Dan Tuohy's try-making pass was adjudged to have gone forward by referee George Clancy. Nevertheless, Ulster went on to mount two more threatening attacks before the break, the first of which broke down with Diack penalised for holding on too long in the tackle, and the second with Jared Payne pulled up for a marginal knock-on metres from the line.
Pienaar was able to close the gap to a single point with two minutes of the period remaining, chipping over from in front of the posts after Andrew Goodman had strayed offside in front of Madigan as he shaped to kick clear. However, there was still time in the half for the Leinster out-half to kick his fourth penalty of the encounter, after Williams had been harshly penalised for interfering with the ball as Leinster attempted to recycle.
Half-Time Score Leinster 12 Ulster 8
Leinster opened the second half re-energised and eager to add to their lead as rapidly as they could. Ulster soaked up their interpro rivals' pressure well for more than five minutes, but when Mr Clancy's whistle sounded again for an infringement by Tom Court, Madigan was once more on-hand to slot over from the left flank. Pienaar cancelled out those points moments later from outside the Leinster 10-metre line, keeping his side in touch at Leinster 15 Ulster 11.
Then, with Leinster penalised again on 55 minutes for failing to release in the tackle, the Springbok reduced the deficit to a solitary point to make for a thrilling last quarter.
Ulster were first to make their play, a great mid-air take from Jackson setting the wheels in motion before fine recycling from Pienaar picked out the recently-entered Henderson hugging the right touchline. The young second row lunged over the whitewash before Madigan could block his path, thereby registering his second Pro12 try, and propelling Ulster into the lead for the first time in the tie. Pienaar's angled conversion missed, but the visitors' position was strong at Leinster 15 Ulster 19.
The prolific Madigan slotted his sixth penalty on 68 minutes to close the gap, but with Andrew Conway then penalised for tackling Jackson while the out-half was in the air, Pienaar gratefully kicked for goal from distance to re-establish the four-point lead. Then, with seven minutes of normal time remaining the European champions went for broke, Madigan eschewing three easy points from a penalty to kick for the line.
The Leinster push from the line-out was powerful, but the Ulster defence matched it until play was halted again for an infringement by the visiting forwards in front of the posts. Leinster opted for the scrum, and Ulster defended their line heroically through three more until well into stoppage time - with Jared Payne even sin-binned on 85 minutes - to come away with a historic and fully-deserved victory.
Full-Time Score Leinster 18 Ulster 22
(15 - 9) R Kearney; D Kearney, B Macken, A Goodman, I Nacewa; I Madigan, I Boss
(1 - 8) C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, Q Roux, D Toner, K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip (c)
Replacements (16 - 23) S Cronin, J McGrath, J Hagan, L Cullen, R Ruddock, J Cooney, N Reid, A Conway
(15 - 9) J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, S Olding, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar
(1 - 8) T Court, R Best, R Lutton, J Muller (c), D Tuohy, R Diack, C Henry, N Williams
Replacements (16 - 23) R Herring, C Black, K McCall, I Henderson, R Wilson, P Marshall, P Nelson
|Leinster Rugby Score Card|
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|