Leinster, travelling away to Belfast to play Ulster at Kingspan Stadium, would have had the tougher of the missions faced by the two Irish rivals at the start of the round 14 weekend, but although the defending champions fell behind early, they achieved their goal with such consummate ease, winning by 38-19, that they will be installed as clear favourites to retain their title.

After Munster did what was needed in Conference B by beating Connacht – their closest challengers – by 20-17 in a tight game on Friday, Leinster were slow to report to work in the Belfast game on Saturday as Springbok Marcell Coetzee scored one of two early Ulster tries to give the hosts real hope.

Ulster led 12-3 when Leinster had to suffer the further disadvantage of having overlapping yellow cards shown to two of their players, Devin Toner and Jimmy O’Brien.

Victory by Ulster would have blown the Conference A race open again, and the hosts would have been confident at that point of a game that eventually included five yellow cards and a red card, to Ulster prop Andy Warwick.

But Leinster are not multiple champions for nothing and they showed their BMT by taking control of the second quarter, with Michael Bent, Josh van der Flier and Ed Byrne scoring tries as Leinster took command of the contest by propelling themselves into a 24-12 lead.

It took another 20 minutes for them to put the result beyond doubt, with Rhys Ruddock scoring a try near the hour mark for the bonus point and a 31-12 lead after a long series of penalties on the Ulster line.

Ulster, determined to get some profit from their good early season form that saw them leading the conference at one stage, hung in desperately but it was to no avail against the powerful Leinster unit who seem to be getting incrementally better which each game they play.

Munster though will argue they are an improved team on the unit that have struggled to beat Leinster in recent years, and they have indeed shown plenty of promise by wrapping up their conference race with a few rounds to go.

Not that there was anything easy about beating Connacht – the only team to beat Leinster in the Guinness PRO14 this season – and Van Graan’s men had to work hard for their three-point win at Thomond Park in Limerick.

Connacht had to win to keep the race alive, but victory have put Munster 12 points clear in Conference B and they can’t be caught.

It took big match temperament for Munster to win it though, with Joey Carbery coming off the bench to kick a 68th minute penalty goal after the scores had been level for much of the second half.

Meanwhile, the Dragons kept their slender hopes of Champions Cup qualification alive with a welcome return to form in their Welsh derby against the Ospreys in Bridgend (31-20).

It was a welcome return to form in the sense that the Dragons hadn’t won in 2021 before this weekend. But they put their travails behind them with an emphatic performance that netted five tries and a bonus point to just about keep them interested in third place in Conference A.

They are currently fifth, 11 points behind the third-placed Ospreys, with a game in hand. Glasgow Warriors are fourth and improved their own chances with a good win over Zebre at the weekend (31-20).

The scheduled Sunday match between Edinburgh and Benetton did not take place so there was no movement in the battle for Champions Cup places in the other conference.

Weekend Guinness PRO14 results

Munster 20 Connacht 17

Zebre 20 Glasgow Warriors 31

Ospreys 20 Dragons 31

Ulster 19 Leinster 38