Dogged Ul­ster up and run­ning with hard-fought vic­tory

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY - CIAN TRACEY

IT was by no means pretty, but Ul­ster got the job done against Le­ices­ter Tigers to give them­selves a sat­is­fac­tory start to their Cham­pi­ons Cup cam­paign.

They face an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent chal­lenge against Rac­ing 92 next week­end. They will go to Paris full of con­fi­dence how­ever, hav­ing brought an end to their three-game win­less streak.

The hor­ren­dous weather con­di­tions were never likely to make for an open con­test and the man­ner in which the Ul­ster play­ers rolled up their sleeves and dug in and got the job done was hugely pleas­ing for Rory Best.

“We put a lot of hard work into that first half but it wasn’t re­flected on the score­board,” the cap­tain said. “In that yel­low card pe­riod (when Le­ices­ter out-half George Ford was sin-binned), we didn’t get the scores that we wanted but I think that took a lot out of them.

“Look, it was a re­ally, re­ally tough game. They are a qual­ity side. They came with big run­ners. We had to front up a few times and just throw our bod­ies in the way of them. I think that’s a win we can be re­ally, re­ally happy with.”

It could and prob­a­bly should have been more straight­for­ward for the hosts. They dom­i­nated ter­ri­tory and pos­ses­sion from start to fin­ish, but strug­gled to make it count on the score­board.

That was pri­mar­ily down to their re­peated sloppy er­rors, which punc­tured any sort of mo­men­tum.

Will Ad­di­son en­hanced his rep­u­ta­tion with an im­pres­sive dis­play that saw him start in the cen­tre and slot into out-half when Billy Burns and his re­place­ment An­gus Cur­tis were both taken off with HIAs.

Burns would re­turn for the start of the sec­ond half, which proved timely as Ul­ster ramped up the pres­sure and ul­ti­mately bul­lied Le­ices­ter into sub­mis­sion.

There wasn’t a lot to like from the mea­gre per­for­mance of Ge­or­dan Mur- phy’s tame Tigers, but Ul­ster won’t mind a jot.

When they re­flect on the win, they will feel that they should have been out of sight be­fore Ad­di­son’s try just shy of the hour mark.

In say­ing that how­ever, where Ul­ster are com­ing from, this was an all-round pos­i­tive night’s work, es­pe­cially be­cause they de­nied the vis­i­tors a los­ing bonus point.

Three sec­ond-half tries from Alan O’Connor, Ad­di­son and Ja­cob Stock­dale along with nine points from the deadly ac­cu­rate boot of John Cooney drove Ul­ster to a fully de­served win.

Twenty-year-old Michael Lowry made his Eu­ro­pean de­but at full-back and re­cov­ered well af­ter some early nerves. To add to the pos­i­tives, Marty Moore made his long-awaited first ap­pear­ance for his new club.

Le­ices­ter led 3-0 af­ter a dread­ful first half in which Ford scored the only points. The Eng­land out-half turned vil­lain, how­ever, when he was shown a yel­low card for a high tackle on Lowry.

Ul­ster failed to take ad­van­tage of their nu­mer­i­cal ad­van­tage, with Best ad­mit­ting that it was frus­trat­ing.

“When you’re on your own line with 14 men and even if you don’t con­cede, it gives you a mas­sive lift some­times and oth­ers it can drain you,” he said. “They started to think about the time they were de­fend­ing as op­posed to get­ting their tails up again.

“We haven’t seen the fruits of our labour yet in terms of our maul at­tack. We saw a lit­tle bit more of it tonight than we have this sea­son. We’re work­ing hard on it and I have a lot of con­fi­dence in those eight for­wards to get front-foot ball for our ex­cit­ing backs.”

Ul­ster were much im­proved in the sec­ond half and as they cranked up the heat, Le­ices­ter wilted. Three min­utes af­ter the restart, O’Connor pow­ered over for the break­through that Ul­ster de­served. Cooney con­verted and re­peated the trick when Ad­di­son scored a sec­ond try af­ter 58 min­utes.

A Cooney penalty put Ul­ster 17-3 to the good and Stock­dale made sure of the win when cen­tre Stu­art McCloskey put him over for a con­verted try in the corner.

A late Manu Tuilagi try, con­verted by Ford, briefly threat­ened to put some­thing of a damp­ener on pro­ceed­ings for the hosts.

But again, Ul­ster dug deep and by the end, the home side were some­what dis­ap­pointed not to have taken a bonus point on the road to Paris.

Scor­ers – Ul­ster: O’Connor, Ad­di­son, Stock­dale 1 try each, Cooney 3 cons, 1 pen. Le­ices­ter: Tuilagi 1 try, Ford 1 pen, 1 con. Ul­ster: M Lowry; C Gil­roy, W Ad­di­son, S McCloskey (A Ker­nohan 77), J Stock­dale; B Burns (A Cur­tis 39-40) (D Shana­han 64), J Cooney; A War­wick (E O’Sul­li­van 51),

R Best (capt) (A McBur­ney 74), R Kane (M Moore 33); A O’Connor (K Tread­well 58), I Hen­der­son; M Coet­zee, J Mur­phy (S Reidy 51), N Ti­money.

Le­ices­ter Tigers: J Holmes; A Thomp­stone, M Tuilagi (G Owen 78), K East­mond (M Toomua 58), J Olowofela; G Ford, B Youngs (S Har­ri­son 58); G Bate­man (D Feao 63), T Youngs (capt) (T Polota-Nau 54), D Cole (J Heyes 69); M Wil­liams (S Lewis 77), H Wells; G Thomp­son, B O’Connor, S Kala­ma­foni. Ref­eree: P Gauzere (France).

Ul­ster’s Adam McBur­ney. Photo: David Fitzger­ald

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