Ulster’s European semi-final pain as Leicester Tigers turn the tables
Ulster’s European Challenge Cup dreams were shattered in a pulsating semi-final against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
Dan McFarland’s side had put themselves in pole position for a Twickenham final at half-time as tries from skipper Iain Henderson and Billy Burns helped Ulster to a 17-6 lead.
However, the Tigers were a transformed side in the second half - outscoring Ulster 27-7 as their big ball carriers started to dominate the game, with England scrum half Ben Youngs igniting the home side from the bench.
Leicester missed an early opportunity to take the lead as England out half George Ford pushed a fourth-minute penalty wide.
Ford was given another opportunity two minutes later when Eric O’Sullivan was caught offside and this time he slotted over the penalty.
John Cooney levelled on nine minutes with a penalty after Leicester flanker Hanro Liebenberg infringed at the ruck.
Ulster cut Leicester open on 12 minutes with winger Robert Baloucoune finishing a sweeping move but the try was disallowed for a knock on in the build-up by Nick Timoney.
Tigers captain Tom Youngs was yellow-carded on 14 minutes for coming in from the side of a ruck in the shadow of his own posts.
Ulster profited a minute later, Rob Herring took a tap penalty driving close to the line before skipper Henderson used his power to surge over for the game’s opening try with Cooney converting.
Ford was on target with a long-range penalty on 19 minutes after Ulster were punished at the maul.
Ulster got their second try of the sin-bin phase three minutes later.
Jacob Stockdale started a counter-attack on halfway, Stuart McCloskey and Ethan McIlroy made carries, the ball was worked through nine phases before out half Billy Burns exploited a gap in the Tigers defence to nip over with Cooney converting from a tight angle.
Ulster survived two five-metre scrums from the Tigers and went into the interval with a 17-6 lead.
Ulster lost Cooney to injury three minutes into the second half and Leicester scored a minute later.
Full back Freddie Stewart ran a great line to open up the Ulster defence, Leicester worked the ball from east to west then back in field for No8 Jasper Wiese to crash over with Ford converting.
Ford cut Ulster’s lead to a point with a 50th-minute penalty.
Leicester took the lead on 53 minutes as from a lineout the home side mauled then spread it wide, Stewart was held up short, the Tigers moved the ball across the field and England prop Ellis Genge crossed the whitewash with Ford adding the conversion.
Ford extended Leicester’s lead to nine points with a drop goal on 58 minutes.
Sean Reidy burst through the Tigers defence and was hauled down close to the try line but Matias Moroni won a penalty for the home team at the breakdown.
Ulster got back in the game on 68 minutes with a solo try for Nick Timoney, from a lineout Ulster moved the ball in field, Stuart McCloskey showed soft hands to put the No8 through a gap and the former Ireland 7s player sprinted over with Michael Lowry converting.
Leicester got their third try on 74 minutes, with a penalty advantage Ford through a looping pass cut out four Ulster defenders, Stewart took it and put winger Guy Porter over in the corner.
Ford’s conversion from a tight angle put the Tigers nine points up to seal the match for Steve Borthwick’s team.
Leicester Tigers: F Steward, G Porter, M Moroni, M Scott, N Nadolo; G Ford, R Wigglesworth, E Genge, T Youngs, D Cole, H Wells, C Green; G Martin, H Liebenberg, J Wiese,
Replacements: C Clare for T Youngs 41 mins, L de Bruin for Genge 65 mins, J Heyes for Cole 41 mins, T Lavanini for Wells 66 mins, C Brink for Martin 41 mins, B Youngs for Wigglesworth 45 mins, Z Henry, K Murimurivalu for Nadolo 61 mins
Ulster: J Stockdale, R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, E McIlroy; B Burns, J Cooney, E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore, A O’Connor, I Henderson, M Rea, J Murphy, N Timoney,
Replacements: J Andrew for Herring 78 mins, A Warwick for O’Sullivan 60 mins, T O’Toole for Moore 60 mins, K Treadwell for O’Connor 58 mins, S Reidy for Rea 55 mins, A Mathewson for Cooney 43 mins, M Lowry for Burns 66 mins, W Addison for Baloucoune 55 mins.
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