Ulster enjoy perfect start to their campaign at Ravenhill
Paddy Jackson’s 17 points and a try from Tommy Bowe enough to see off Tigers
Ulster’s Jared Payne celebrates with try scorer Tommy Bowe during the Heineken Cup game against Leicester at Ravenhill. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho/Presseye
Ulster 22 Leicester 16: Ulster move on to Montpellier next Saturday with momentum and confidence gained from their best performance of the season and another notable Friday night home scalp. But there will be regret too that let Leicester off the hook with a late bonus point which could prove critical.
Rising to the challenge thrown down by Leicester’s strong scrum and hard carrying, Ulster upped their tempo with a furious commitment to the breakdown and a willingness to keep the ball alive in the tackle with a more daring offloading game.
But they were denied two tries which might on another night have not only seen them pull away but push on for a bonus point themselves.
There were many stand-out performances, not least by Tom Court for an almost miraculous turnaround against Dan Cole in the scrums, not to mention a polished, skilful and assured performance by Paddy Jackson.
In an ominously strong start, the Tigers won the first breakdown penalty, the first scrum penalty and used up a penalty advantage earned by their first line-out maul to go quickly through the phases, Toby Flood eventually dummying and breaking Darren Cave’s tackle to find Jordan Crane in support.
Ulster were stretched beyond breaking point and from Ben Youngs’ pass Dan Bowden exploited the overlap with a long skip pass for loosehead Logovii Mulipola to score wide out. Flood landed the conversion expertly. Seven-nil inside seven minutes.
They would go on to win penalties at four of the first-half’s five scrums, and had they resorted to more trademark Leicester tactics they might have been able to turn the screw. Instead, their outside three left acres of space in behind them, especially right-winger Miles Benjamin, for Jackson and Jared Payne to exploit.
Jackson was striking the ball beautifully, none more so than a 55-metre penalty to touch to earn a close-range line-out.
Utilising a play to nothing when their line-out maul was brought down, Jackson was equally expert with the cross kick from which Tommy Bowe brilliantly beat Niall Morris in the air to score. Jackson even bisected the posts unerringly from near the touchline.
After Flood restored Leicester’s lead when Nick Williams was adjudged to come from the side when tackling Tom Youngs at another maul, Jackson levelled again after Ulster also had joy from their kick chase against the vulnerable Leicester outside three.
Andrew Trimble chased down Paul Marshall’s perfectly weighted box kick to force a spillage in the air from Adam Thompstone, which Rory Best latched on to.
Ulster continued to rule the air, Bowe gathering where Morris had failed and stunning footwork by Paul Marshall to cut through the Leicester defence was rewarded when Jackson closed out the half with a sweet penalty.
After Flood brought the sides level for a third time soon after the resumption, a big, 10-point call went against the home side, as Poite ruled out Jackson’s intercept try, awarding a penalty against the outhalf for offside.
Poite’s typically obtrusive influence became even more pronounced when he called for the TMO to adjudicate after an easy take by Bowe off a poor Flood kick led to a bout of offloading by Cave, Williams and Payne. This culminated in Cave crossing for what would have been one of the tries of the season. Instead Cave’s initial offload was ruled forward.
By then, both Ruan Pienaar – to an earth-shuddering roar from the home fans – and the talented Stuart Olding had joined the fray. Ironically, Pienaar’s first contribution was a knock-on but thereafter his contribution was sublime.
Jackson tagged on three penalties, the first after Crane was binned for slyly tripping Pienaar when raising his leg as he lay on the ground.
But four minutes from the end Best, another hero along with locks Johann Muller and Dan Tuohy, not only for his accurate darts but his presence at the breakdown, conceded a penalty for offside which Owen Williams landed to earn a bonus point that Leicester.