Second-half onslaught helps Ulster complete Irish double
Irish provinces outscored Premiership clubs 12 tries to two on the opening weekend of the Champions Cup. Eight, of course, came from Leinster in their Friday-night blitz of Wasps. However, Ulster contributed three to this tally as they dominated the second half, with Leicester’s sole try coming late on by Manu Tuilagi.
After a set-piece heavy opening 40 minutes due to the remnants of Storm Callum, which had blighted the Irish coast, a George Ford penalty put Leicester 3-0 up. However, Ford was at the centre of two moments that changed the complexion of the game.
First, the fly-half was sent to the sinbin after 20 minutes. During the spell that Leicester were down to 14 men, they looked quite composed. They were on the back foot at times but the gelling of the midfield partnership of Tuilagi and Kyle Eastmond helped to thwart the Ulster attack, as did the greasy ball. Just before half-time, the England international attempted a drop kick that was disrupted by Ulster and Ireland captain Rory Best.
Interim Leicester head coach Geordan Murphy rued this missed chance to go 6-0 ahead.
“I thought our defence was really good and I was really pleased with us having that lead at half-time. I was disappointed we didn’t get the drop goal just before half time,” he said. “I thought it was a good decision from our guys but just a little bit of untidiness between nine and 10.”
Ulster returned looking determined to put a frustrating first half behind them. Leicester’s poor discipline meant they gave away two penalties in quick succession which gave Ulster the advantage to score from a driving maul with lock Alan O’Connor pushing over for his side’s first try.
It appeared to be two tries in two minutes for the hosts as Iain Henderson crashed over but referee Pascal Gauzere disallowed it due to a forward pass from scrum-half John Cooney in the build-up after consulting the television match official.
After a raft of Tigers replacements, Ulster were clinical as Will Addison crossed just shy of the hour.
As rain began to fall in sheets, Ulster took control. Murphy conceded that once the hosts went two tries ahead his side faced a near-impossible task. “At 14-3 down, the game is effectively dead because the conditions closed in. Ulster killed the game and made it really difficult for us. We probably turned the ball around three or four times in Ulster’s 22, which isn’t good enough.”
Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale streaked passed the Tigers defence with less than 10 minutes on the clock. As Ulster tried to seal a bonus-point try, they lost focus and Leicester benefited with a try from Tuilagi but it was too little too late.
Scores 0-3 Ford pen; 5-3 O’Connor try; 7-3 Cooney con; 12-3 Addison try; 14-3 Cooney con; 17-3 Cooney pen; 22-3 Stockdale try; 24-3 Cooney con; 24-8 Tuilagi try; 24-10 Ford con. Ulster M Lowry; C Gilroy, W Addison; S McCloskey (A Kernohan 75), J Stockdale; B Burns (A Curtis 39), J Cooney; A Warwick (E O’Sullivan 50), R Best (captain)(A McBurney 73), R Kane (M Moore 33), A O’Connor, I Henderson, M Coetzee, J Murphy (S Reidy 50), M Timoney. Leicester J Holmes, A Thompstone, M Tuilagi (G Owen 78), K Eastmond (M Toomua 57), J Olowofela, G Ford, B Youngs (S Harrison 57), G Bateman (D Feao 62), T Youngs (capt) (T Polota-Nau 53), D Cole (J Heyes 69), M Williams, H Wells, G Thompson, B O’Connor, S Kalamafoni. Referee Pascal Gauzere (France).
Unstoppable: Jacob Stockdale scores Ulster’s third try against Leicester