Ulster make it a winning start to European Champions Cup with win over Leicester Tigers

Al O'Connor gores over for an Ulster try
Al O'Connor gores over for an Ulster try

ULSTER 24 LEICESTER TIGERS 10

A second half try blitz from Ulster gave them a winning start to another Heineken Champions Cup campaign against old English adversaries Leicester Tigers on Saturday night at Kingspan Stadium.

It was the ninth meeting of the sides, and Ulster ensured their perfect home record against the visitors was maintained, the latest Pool Four success their fifth win in Belfast.

Ulster came from 3-0 down at the break to rally with an impressive second half display and also end a losing sequence of two games.

It is off to Paris next Saturday to face Racing 92 who won 14-13 away at Scarlets to leave Ulster top of the group - but still quite a bit to go yet.

It was an encouraging start from Ulster, one of their best to the season, but in that dominant first quarter they failed to get anything for their endeavours.

Ulster European Cup debutant Michael Lowry fends off Leicester's George Ford j

Ulster European Cup debutant Michael Lowry fends off Leicester's George Ford j

Instead, it was Leicester who had taken the lead - against the run of play - with a penalty through outhalf George Ford.

It was expected the English visitors would target rookie Ulster fullback, Michael Lowry, making his European debut in only his second competitive appearance.

And on the first two high balls the youngster was found waiting , but on the third he secured and on the 21st minute was racing through only to be high tackled by Ford three metres from the line.

French referee Pascal Gauzere had no hesitation in going for the yellow card, although some may have felt a penalty try could have come too.

Ulster turned down the option of posts for a scrum and Craig Gilroy’s try was chalked off as he had just slipped into touch before going over.

Then another kickable penalty was popped into touch and Ulster, although initially securing the lineout, lost the ball on the ground and the chance had gone.

The failure to take those points or find a clinical edge when well placed would hopefully not return to haunt them.

With the Ulster scrum under some pressure at times, Ross Kane was replaced by Marty Moore, giving the tighthead his first Ulster appearance since joining in the summer.

It was Leicester who came closest to adding to their scoreline in the closing few minutes, but Ulster dug in to trail by three points at the break, although they would wait anxiously to see if outhalf Billy Burns would return for the second half on an HIA - Angus Curtis replacing him.

As it was Curtis was sent for HIA at the break having take a bang in the last play of the half, but Burns returned for the second half.

Ulster turned down two more kickable penalties, but from the second lineout, a driving maul eventually led to lock Allan O’Connor going over for a try which John Cooney converted for a 7-3 lead three minutes into the half.

Ulster thought they had doubled their scoreline when Iain Henderson went over, but there had been a forward pass earlier and it was chalked off.

The second try did come through when Will Addison finished off a great move with replacement Sean Reidy taking a great line before the centre went over. Cooney added the extras.

However, Ulster were now on top and in the 69th minute Cooney made it 17-3 with a penalty.

Just prior to that Lowry had whiteline fever after replacement Sean Reidy had taken a great line, a pass to winger Jacob Stockdale was the better option from the fullback, he was held up on the line.

But Stockdale was not to be denied and went over in the 72nd minute to dot down, Cooney again converting and Ulster were in a comfortable 24-3 lead.

Manu Tuilagi took the heat of the visitors with a try, converted by Ford, but Ulster pressed for the bonus point try but they were unable to capitalise with two lineouts in the corner and it was Leicester who ended the game in the Ulster corner pressing for a try which could have secured a losing bonus point…..it never came either.