Leinster win Pro14 final: Ulster’s Iain Henderson says they show no signs of plateauing

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Leinster
Ulster were unable to break their trophy drought as they ran into a relentless Leinster

In the end, the Pro14 final played out largely as many would have expected before kick-off.

It won’t be much consolation to the northern province, but it’s not that Leinster are much better than Ulster. It’s that Leinster are much better than everyone.

Next week against Saracens will give a strong indication where Leinster stand in a European context, but in the Pro14 they lead the field by several country miles.

Ulster skipper Iain Henderson alluded to the key point of Leinster’s league dominance. They have won the Pro14 now three times in a row, and in each season they produce a game that is an evolution of the one that proved successful in the previous campaign.

For a side like Ulster, desperate to end their extended wait for silverware, watching Leinster set a new benchmark each season is a reminder of the long, long road ahead.

“Leinster didn’t peak five years ago and have just stayed there, Leinster are getting better year on year,” said Henderson.

“Every year we get better, Leinster get better. We’ve got to make sure we’re always trying to close that gap, always trying to get better at a quicker rate than they are.”

Ulster
Ulster did not score again after James Hume’s fourth-minute try

James Hume’s early breakthrough gave Ulster the start they had dreamed of and, while Leinster quickly replied through James Lowe, the champions did not have it all their own way in the first half.

It was Ulster who finished the opening 40 stronger as they enjoyed a lengthy spell inside the 22, but Leinster’s defence held firm to give them a lead at the break and provide a platform to put distance between the teams early in the second half.

“We’re lacking a slight bit of experience in winning knockout rugby games,” added Henderson.

“Having the composure, the discipline to go through phases, not give away a penalty or not crumble under pressure.

“The phases that we put Leinster through tonight, I think the majority of other teams in the league would have cracked.

“That’s where they’re incredibly good, they’re incredibly difficult to break down. Not many teams score a lot of points against them.”

‘We’re a fair bit away from where we want to be’

Leinster Ulster
Leinster remain undefeated in the 2019-20 season with 23 wins

It was the eight-minute spell after half-time that perhaps hammered home the point most brutally.

After a lukewarm first half, Leinster didn’t just ramp it up a notch, they put their foot to the floor and brought an end to what had been threatening to become a back-and-forth thriller.

Only perhaps away to Clermont have Ulster seen their hopes of a result snatched away from them in such clinical fashion this season. To so quickly dispatch high-class opposition and rip their stake out of the contest is a skill very few European sides possess.

“The disappointment comes from the realisation we’re a fair bit away from where we wanted to be and the goal that we have,” reflected McFarland, who acknowledged Robbie Henshaw’s intercept try was the moment Leinster took total control.

“From then it was a totally different game.

“Everything after that becomes a little bit of a non-story. Although that’s not what finished it, for us what caused the problem was having those opportunities in the first half in their 22 and not making them count.

“That’s where the issue is because if we made those count then the flavour of the rest of the game is totally different.”

From the outside, Ulster had very little to lose going into the game with Leinster such overwhelming favourites.

Despite the defeat, they did their reputation no damage, but the problem for Ulster is that their reputation remains incomparable to that of their provincial opponents.

Leinster remain the unequivocal standard bearers in the Pro14. While Ulster have proved many things and taken many strides under McFarland, a lot will have to happen before they can earn a reputation like that.

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