Leicester were forced to hold off a ferocious Ulster fightback on their way to a 25-18 Champions Cup victory at Welford Road.
Leicester were forced to hold off a ferocious Ulster fightback on their way to a 25-18 Champions Cup win at Welford Road.
A trio of tries from Freddie Burns, Graham Kitchener and centre Owen Williams helped a muscular Leicester side overcome a disappointing Ulster performance.
Two of those were converted by Burns and Williams respectively, but the final score doesn’t really do justice to the extent of the Tigers’ dominance.
Ulster mounted a second-half comeback with good tries from Tommy Bowe and Franco Van der Merwe, but in the final analysis it was a case of too little too late for the Irishmen, although it earned them a losing bonus point.
Leicester, who led at half-time, were the better side for the majority of the contest and the Tigers will take heart from the sheer exuberance of their performance.
As expected the game began energetically and was positively brimming with physicality. Jackson had the perfect opportunity to commence the scoring on three minutes, but his penalty drifted wide of the uprights. And it was Ulster made the superior opening, with their big forwards diligently going through the phases.
Irish fly-half Jackson made no mistake with his second kick on eight minutes when Jordan Crane was caught in an offside position.
Ulster may have just about had the edge at this juncture but some of the hits coming from the Tigers were genuinely bone crunching. And the hosts crept into the lead on 15 minutes when Williams scored at the posts despite the attention of several Ulster defenders.
Romain Poite needed the assistance of the TMO to be certain, but the try was good, and when Burns added the extras, it was 7-3 to the hosts.
Williams had an excellent chance to compound Ulster’s woe on 21 minutes, but was off-target with his attempt. By the end of the first quarter, therefore, the momentum had shifted in favour of the Tigers.
The Englishmen were not only putting Ulster under incredible pressure with their aggressive defence, but were also winning the battle at the breakdown through the outstanding Crane. They emphatically hammered home their advantage on 28 minutes, but a slack Ulster handed it to them on a plate.
Paul Marshall surrendered the ball to his opposite number, Ben Youngs, and the grateful scrum half put big lock Kitchener in under the posts. The conversion seemed fairly routine, but again Williams failed to execute. Burns atoned for the miss on 31 minutes when he evaded several Ulster defenders on the right wing before touching down.
The visitors’ defence was missing in action, and the Tigers were aided by the fact that Craig Gilroy was serving time in the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle. This time Williams made no mistake with the conversion to make it 19-3 to Leicester.
The Tigers started the second half where they had left off and when Robbie Diack was penalised for offside on 44 minutes, Williams slotted another three points for his side to make it a mammoth 22-3.
Jackson did reduce the deficit on 48 minutes with a well-executed kick, but the hosts remained firmly in control of the game.
The Premiership side was playing some fine rugby, with Burns expertly pulling the strings and Mathew Tait running nice lines from full-back. But Ulster weren’t giving up, and the Irish province regained some hope when Bowe finished off a good counter attack to touch down on 55 minutes.
Williams cancelled that effort out on 62 minutes when he curled over an excellent penalty, but Ulster were starting to establish a foothold in the game through their powerful strike runners. When second row Van der Merwe dived over on 67 minutes to score Ulster’s second try, the Irishmen were right back in it.
Frustratingly for them, though, Tigers’ flanker Jamie Gibson charged down Jackson’s conversion. Ulster had done pretty well to get back into a game that Leicester had dominated, but it was hard to resist the feeling that the Tigers had taken their foot off the gas.
Despite Ulster throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at Leicester, the Tigers’ defensive resilience was enough to keep the door shut.
The English side may have struggled in the Premiership recently, but thoroughly deserved this win, and the victory sets them up well for a sustained assault in Europe’s premier competition.
Tries: Williams, Kitchener, Burns
Cons: Burns, Williams
Pens: Williams 3
Tries: Bowe, Van der Merwe
Pens: Jackson 2
Yellow Card: Gilroy
For Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Owen Williams, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs (c), 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Marcos Ayerza
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Sebastian de Chaves, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 David M