Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 3°C Friday 14 May 2021

Ulster fail to rise to the Challenge as Leicester seal comeback win

Ulster lost 33-24 to Leicester in tonight’s Challenge Cup semi-final.

Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO


Richard Mulligan reports from Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium
ULSTER’S EUROPEAN CHALLENGE ended in disappointment at the Mattioli Woods Welford Road stadium on Friday night when they were stunned by a remarkable second-half comeback from Leicester Tigers to lose this semi-final tie 33-24.

Having dominated the first half, answered every question put to them and leading 17-6 going into the break, Ulster’s prospects looked promising of a Twickenham final date on 21 May.

But the Tigers hit them with 20 unanswered points in as many minutes from the off in the second-half and while Ulster rallied at the end, they could never find a way back into the game.

The turning point came after 43 minutes when Ulster lost scrumhalf John Cooney in an accidental collision with Nemani Nadolo, while Leicester had replaced Richard Wigglesworth at half-time with Ben Youngs and he combined superbly with man-of-the-match George Ford to end Ulster’s European charge.

john-cooney-leaves-the-game-with-an-injury Cooney goes off injured. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A disappointing display and defeat at home against Connacht in the Rainbow Cup a week earlier had raised some questions for Ulster, but response was initially good as Ulster came out aggressively.

Although the early onslaught was not rewarded and Tigers actually went ahead on seven minutes when Ford kicked a penalty, having missed one earlier, for a 3-0 lead.

Ulster responded strongly and again, using a multi phase game first levelled on nine minutes with a John Cooney penalty and then it looked as if winger Robert Baloucoune had crossed for the opening try – it was ruled out after a TMO review when Nicky Timoney had knocked on in the build-up.

But the red wave came again and built into a Tsunami, the home defence held but captain Tom Youngs was over eager at a ruck, and the yellow card was to prove costly after 14 minutes.

iain-henderson-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-teammates Ulster celebrate Henderson's try. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A minute later Ulster had forced their way over, captain Iain Henderson crashing through and Cooney added the extras. Ford did respond with a penalty, but on 21 minutes Ulster exploited the numbers although outhalf Billy Burns did not need the overlap to go over. Cooney’s conversion made it 17-6.

Tigers did press Ulster when back to 15 and it looked as if they would get back into it, but a huge defensive effort from the visitors kept them out.

Leicester boss Steve Brothwick made a huge statement at the break when he replaced Tom Youngs and Dan Cole in the front row with Charlie Clare and Joe Hayese while George Martin got the crook for Cyle Brink. 

Ulster lost Cooney after just three minutes and it seemed to rock the visitors.

Leicester then gave Ulster a bit of their own medicine, going through multi-phases and beginning to challenge and win the collisions.

By the 53rd minute they had stunned the visitors with two tries, number eight Jasper Wiese and prop Ellis Genge going over as they turned up the heat considerably and Ford’s two conversions and a penalty had them in front 23-17 for the first time since the seventh minute – adding a drop goal for good measure to put the English Premiership men nine points ahead.

Ulster huffed and puffed, but Tigers were up to the challenge, and then from nothing after a lineout just inside the home half, replacement outhalf Michael Lowry and Stuart McCloskey combined to send Timoney away, and the number eight showed great pace to dash over from 30m. Lowry landed the touchline conversion to set up a dramatic last 10 minutes with two points between the sides.

But six minutes from the end another huge pass from Ford past four Ulstermen saw winger Porter benefit and slide in at the corner. Ford added the extras to put his side nine points clear again.

Ulster rallied frantically, they needed to be patient in possession, but Leicester held out to take their place in the Challenge Cup showdown when they will face either Bath or Montpellier.

Leicester: Freddie Steward; Guy Porter, Matias Moroni, Matt Scott, Nemani Nadolo; George Ford, Richard Wigglesworth; Ellis Genge, Tom Youngs (capt), Dan Cole, Harry Wells, Calum Green, George Martin, Hanro Liebenberg, Jasper Wiese.

Replacements: Charlie Clare (for Youngs 40), Luan De Bruin, Joe Heyes (for Cole 40), Tomas Lavanini, Cyle Brink(for Martin 40), Ben Youngs (for Wigglesworth 46), Zack Henry (not used), Kimi Murimurivalu (for Nadolo 60).


Tries:  Wiese, Genge, Porter

Be part
of the team

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership.

Become a Member

Pens: Ford (3)

DG: Ford

Cons: Ford (3)

Ulster: Jacob Stockdale; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Iain Henderson (capt), Alan O’Connor; Matt Rea, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney.

Replacements: John Andrew (for Herring 79), Andy Warwick (for O’Sullivan 60), Tom O’Toole (for Moore 60), Kieran Treadwell (for O’Connor 59),  Sean Reidy (for Rea 55), Alby Mathewson (for Cooney 43), Michael Lowry (for Burns 66) , Will Addison(for Baloucoune 55).


Tries: Henderson, Burns, Timoney

Pens: Cooney 

Cons: Cooney (2), Lowry

Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France).

About the author:

Richard Mulligan

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel