The Irish Times - Sports Weekend

Ulster lose way with second- half collapse as Ford drives Leicester

McFarland’s side will rue errors and indiscipli­ne after leading 17- 6 at break

- John O’Sullivan

Leicester

Tries: Wiese, Genge, Porter Cons: Ford 3 Pens: Ford 3 Drop goal: Ford

Ulster

33

24

Tries: Henderson, Burns, Timoney

Cons: Cooney 2, Lowry

Pens: Cooney

Ulster were left to rue a second- half collapse in which they conceded 27 points for a gut wrenching defeat in an entertaini­ng European Challenge Cup semi- f i nal at Welford Road. Dan McFarland’s side led 17- 6 at the interval but were blown away by a rampant Tigers side after the restart.

The visitors will reflect on errors and indiscipli­ne that undermined their efforts but ultimately there was no disputing the merit of Leicester’s win fired by man- of- the- match George Ford, whose vision and range of passing was a key element, and Nemani Nadolo’s raw power and ability to attract multiple tacklers.

There will be little personal consolatio­n but Jacob Stockdale will have impressed watchi ng Lions coaches Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy, while Iain Henderson, Jordi

Murphy, Rob Herring, John Cooney prior to his injury and especially Nick Timoney can be proud of their respective contributi­ons.

George Ford and John Cooney exchanged early penalties, the teams employing different strategies in possession early on with the Tigers looking for territory through the boot while Ulster preferred to carry into contact, all the while looking for space with inside passes.

Ulster t hought t hey had scored the first try of the match through Robert Baloucoune on 12 minutes but it was correctly disallowed as Nick Timoney knocked on in contact in the build- up. The visitors playing with a penalty advantage elected to kick to the corner.

Leicester conceded t wo more in quick succession and lost captain Tom Youngs to a yellow card and when they infringed on the double again referee Pascal Gauzere should have sent a second Leicester player to the bin but instead gave stand- in skipper George Ford a general warning.

Reward

Ulster finally got the reward, Rob Herring took a quick tap penalty, Iain Henderson did superbl y t o s t a y on hi s f e e t through the initial contact, allowing his support players to latch on and drive him over the line. Cooney added the conversion.

Despite conceding a penalty which Ford landed from long range, Ulster responded positively with a second try scored by outhalf Billy Burns; Ethan McIlroy’s gorgeous footwork a rapier like incision to supplement the bludgeonin­g power of their big carriers, especially Stuart McCloskey. The visitors had pi l ed on 1 4 points i n Tom

Youngs absence to lead 17- 6.

The Tigers had a gilt edged opportunit­y to reduce the deficit having won a scrum penalty five metres from the Ulster line but when they elected to scrum again, it was the home side that was adjudged to have transgress­ed this time. It was a huge moment for the visitors and they escaped to the interval with an 11- point lead.

Ulster lost Cooney following a collision from Nemani Nadolo and the Tigers scored a try 60 seconds later through Jasper Wiese, which Ford converted and then tagged on a penalty to claw back to within a point at 17- 16.

The half- time team talk and the freshening the pack with three replacemen­ts had the desired effect but the visitors were culpable too with several unforced errors. The home side took the lead with a try from Ellis Genge on 53 minutes; Ford kicked the conversion and then tagged on a drop goal as Ulster’s energy and cohesion dissipated. Nadolo’s power epitomised Leicester’s post interval ascendancy and the visitors would have been grateful to see him depart on 61 minutes.

Ulster dug out a response on 67 minutes, Timoney racing 40 metres for a brilliant individual try with replacemen­t Michael Lowry adding a superb conversion. Little mistakes continued to haunt Ulster and it cost them dearly Guy Porter effectivel­y sealing the outcome – Ford’s conversion important – with five minutes remaining.

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