Tigers fight back to advance to Challenge Cup Final
CHALLENGE CUP REPORT: Leicester Tigers put in a superb second-half display to hit back from 11 points down and defeat Ulster 33-24 at Welford Road to secure a spot in the European Challenge Cup Final at Twickenham.
The Irish province looked well in control for the opening 40 minutes and scored the opening two tries, but it was an inspired Leicester side that came out in the second period and overturned the deficit to clinch a first European final since 2009.
Leicester took the lead on eight minutes, after Man of the Match George Ford missed a long-range effort he made no mistake second time around, slotting over after referee Pascal Gauzere penalised Ulster for straying offside.
John Cooney then nudged level from the kicking tee before Robert Baloucoune thought he had crossed for the opening try but a knock-on in the build-up ruled out that try.
However, the visitors wouldn’t have to wait much longer as with Leicester a man light due to a Tom Youngs yellow card, Iain Henderson powered over for the opening score close to the posts.
Ford cut the gap to four points from the kicking tee but the Ulster dominance continued shortly after as they crossed for a second time.
It came from some neat play working the overlap and in the end Billy Burns had the freedom of Leicester to pick a gap and dive over the tryline.
The hosts started the second period much brighter of the two sides and crossed for their opening try when Nemani Nadolo beat a tackle or two before working the overlap and finding No.8 Jasper Wiese who cut back inside and had enough in the tank to power over.
Ford then slotted a simple penalty kick to make it a one-point game before Leicester hit the front for the first time after a remarkable opening 15 minutes to the second half.
It was Ellis Genge who scored the try after Leicester thought the chance had briefly gone out wide, before working play back to the left and finding the prop who had enough strength to power over the whitewash.
Ford nailed a tricky sideline conversion to put the hosts six ahead and that became a nine-point lead when he then slotted a nerveless drop goal from just outside the opposition 22.
Ulster would hit back after a lovely inside pass released Nick Timoney to sprint clear with his green scrum cap darting towards the line. Kini Murimurivalu attempted to stop the No.8 but could only trip him up before Timoney crossed the whitewash.
Leicester then wrapped up victory through Guy Porter who scored in the corner after Leicester again split the Ulster line with a string of neat offloads and powerful carries.
They will find out their Challenge Cup final opponents on Saturday when Bath take on Montpellier at The Rec.
For Leicester Tigers:
Tries: Wiese, Genge, Porter
Cons: Ford 3
Pens: Ford 3
Tries: Henderson, Burns, Timoney
Cons: Cooney 2, Lowry
Yellow card: Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 14)
Leicester Tigers: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Guy Porter, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 George Ford, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 George Martin, 5 Calum Green, 4 Harry Wells, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Tomas Lavanini, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Zack Henry, 23 Kini Murimurivalu.
Ulster: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Rob Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Matt Rea, 5 Iain Henderson (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Michael Lowry, 23 Will Addison.
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)