European Rugby Champions Cup: Leicester beat Ulster
|Leicester (19) 25|
|Tries: Williams, Kitchener, Burns Cons: Burns, Williams Pens: Williams 2|
|Ulster (3) 18|
|Tries: Bowe, Van der Merwe Con: Jackson Pens: Jackson 2|
Leicester put their shaky domestic form behind them as a lively first-half display set up victory over Ulster in the European Rugby Champions Cup.
Tries from Owen Williams, Graham Kitchener and Freddie Burns helped the hosts into a 19-3 half-time lead.
Tommy Bowe's superb converted try enabled Ulster to cut the lead to nine points after an hour.
A Williams penalty edged Tigers further ahead but Franco van der Merwe's try earned Ulster a losing bonus point.
There was a real rarity after Van der Merwe scored, with Jamie Gibson charging down Paddy Jackson's conversion attempt, but ultimately it did not affect the result.
Leicester have been badly hit by injuries this season and they suffered a further blow as England centre Manu Tuilagi, who has just returned to action, went off with a recurrence of his groin injury after only 15 minutes and is set for a further spell on the sidelines.
But with second row Graham Kitchener in fine form and England scrum-half Ben Youngs directing play with some style, the English champions were too good for this season's leading Irish province - in the opening 40 minutes at least.
The visitors started brightly and went in front through Jackson's boot but the rest of the half belonged to Leicester.
Welsh prospect Williams drilled over under the sticks and Youngs created the Tigers' second, reading a snipe from opposite number Paul Marshall beautifully to intercept inside the Ulster 22 and feeding the supporting Kitchener to stride over.
Burns - who had missed badly earlier on - failed with another appalling shot at goal.
But, with Ulster down to 14 after Craig Gilroy was sin-binned for taking out the aerial Miles Benjamin, the fly-half showed his feet were in good order running with the ball as he side-stepped inside the cover to score.
Williams converted as Leicester led 19-3 at half-time, but Ulster were a side reborn after the interval.
Their pack fronted up to the Tigers eight and, after a penalty apiece from Williams and Jackson made it 22-6 with half an hour to play, the visiting backs exploded into life.
Bowe scored a try of the season contender after Ulster spun the ball the width of the pitch on halfway, combining beautifully with Jared Payne before taking a reverse pass to cross for an absolute belter, which Jackson converted.
Ireland wing Gilroy then sliced through to set up the position for Van der Merwe to dive over a ruck to score.
But Gibson charged down the conversion attempt to keep the Tigers' lead at seven points and they held out to win a cracking game and partly avenge their two defeats by Ulster in Europe last season.
Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill: "First half, we were pretty sharp, and second half we probably kicked the ball too much. I thought we could have scored another try in the first half, but we will take the win.
"We had to get off to a good start. I thought it was a cracking game, a good physical contest. It's one game, and it is good to win it. There is a long way to go, so we won't get too excited.
"We have a bucket-load of guys missing, and to beat a good Ulster side is pleasing. We have struggled to get past them in the last couple of years."
Ulster head coach Neil Doak: "We weren't as accurate as we had hoped in the first half, and Leicester got a bit of a lead, but the second half was pretty decent and we got a couple of scores.
"It is a possession game, and if you don't have the ball, you have to defend quite a bit. They put us under a bit of pressure and capitalised on a couple of our mistakes.
"We talked about the set-piece all week, and if you don't have possession you are going to be under pressure."
Leicester: Tait; Scully, M Tuilagi, O Williams, Goneva; Burns, B Youngs; Ayerza, Ghiraldini, Balmain, Thorn, Kitchener, Gibson, Salvi, Crane.
Replacements: Benjamin (for Tuilagi 15), Mele for Burns (76), De Chaves for Thorn (43), Barbieri for Crane (64).
Not Used: Thacker; Rizzo, Pasquali, Harrison.
Ulster: Ludik; Bowe, Payne, McCloskey, Gilroy; P Jackson, P Marshall; Warwick, Best, Herbst, Stevenson, Van der Merwe, Diack, Henry, Williams.
Replacements: Olding for McCloskey (56), Heaney for P. Marshall (74), Fitzpatrick for Herbst (76), C Ross for Stevenson (76), Wilson for Williams (56), Cave for Ludik (56).
Not Used: Herring, Black.
Sin Bin: Gilroy (31).
Ref: Romain Poite (France).