European Rugby Champions Cup: Ulster beat Leicester Tigers 24-10
|Heineken Champions Cup|
|Ulster (0) 24|
|Tries: O'Connor, Addison, Stockdale Cons: Cooney 3 Pen: Cooney|
|Leicester Tigers (3) 10|
|Try: Tuiliagi Con: Ford Pen: Ford|
Ulster continued their domination of Leicester Tigers in Belfast as they began their European Champions Cup Pool Four campaign with a 24-10 win.
Second-half tries by Alan O'Connor, Will Addison and Jacob Stockdale earned the Irish province a fifth successive European home success over Leicester.
George Ford's penalty had the English visitors leading at half-time.
In a match played in sheeting rain the Tigers failed to score again until Manu Tuiglagi's late consolation try.
Ulster pressed for the fourth try which would have secured a bonus point in the dying seconds, but Leicester held out and threatened to touch down again themselves.
Leicester host last year's beaten semi-finalists Scarlets on Friday, while Ulster have an extra day to prepare for their visit to Paris to take on 2018 runners-up Racing 92.
Season defining match
Former Ulster and Ireland wing Andrew Trimble had predicted this opening round fixture would "set the tone" for the rest of Ulster's season but the same could easily have been said for Leicester.
Both teams are in the midst of a rebuilding process under new coaches following Dan McFarland's arrival in Belfast just before the start of the season and Geordan Murphy's sudden elevation to the top job at Welford Road.
The grey rain clouds that shrouded east Belfast in the hours before kick-off dictated that the game would be decided by the two packs and it was the Leicester forwards who enjoyed the upper hand in the early set-pieces.
Rory Best's first line-out throw went awry before Tigers won a penalty from the opening scrum, which presented them with the opportunity to test full-back Michael Lowry on his first senior start.
The 20-year-old was forced into a knock-on when he lost a steepling kick in the mist and from the resulting scrum John Cooney conceded a penalty in the shadow of his own posts which allowed Ford to kick the opening score.
Leicester dig deep
Lowry seemed destined for a torrid evening in the wake of his early mistake but the European debutant recovered to win his next aerial duel with Jordan Olowofela before he ran a sublime supporting line for Will Addison's initial break to charge up to the Leicester five-metre line.
In the scramble to defend, Ford was sin-binned for cynically killing the ball and Ulster dominated the next 10 minutes as they attempted to make their numerical advantage pay.
The home side turned down a raft of kickable penalties in the opening half in their determination to take on the Tigers forward pack but each time their efforts were repelled.
The return of Ford gave the visitors renewed belief and they finished the half on the front foot with Ulster's 36-year-old captain Best sprinting off the defensive line to block Ford's injury-time drop-goal attempt.
Tide turns for Ulster
Ulster fly-half Billy Burns had spent the last few minutes of the opening half receiving treatment for a possible concussion but his return for the restart helped to swing the momentum in favour of the hosts.
A slaloming break put Ulster on the front foot before the decision to once again send a kickable penalty into the corner eventually paid off with O'Connor winning the lineout and diving over the line two phases later.
The Kingspan was celebrating once again within seconds of the restart when Iain Henderson finished off a counter-attack, but the television match official had spotted a forward pass in the build-up to briefly quieten the crowd.
Leicester sought to take advantage of their narrow escape but they were left to rue the decision to turn down a shot at the posts as Ulster stoutly held their line before returning to the attack.
Addison's try in the 59th minute came from a brilliant attack from right to left, with Sean Reidy's initial break leading to the overlap before the ball was quickly recycled to the outside centre to slide over on the greasy surface.
Cooney nailed his second conversion and another penalty 10 minutes later to take the game beyond Leicester.
Titanic bonus-point battle
The Tigers attempted to come again but their power was beginning to drain in the energy-sapping conditions with Ulster's defence looking increasingly assured.
In contrast, the home side could sense a possible bonus point and that was solidified by a superb Stockdale score with seven minutes remaining.
Cooney, who had switched to fly-half, brilliantly straightened the line before McCloskey fired a terrific pass to the Ireland wing, who was able to skate over untouched in the left corner.
The try bonus was now on the radar but it was Tigers who grabbed the final score as Tuilagi, who had been well marshalled throughout, slipped Addison's tackle to slide over.
Ford's conversion meant both sides had something to play for during a thrilling finale but Ulster failed to convert a pair of lineout mauls before then having to finish the game desperately defending their line as Tigers knocked the ball on with the clock in the red.
Ulster assistant coach Dwayne Peel on BBC Radio Ulster: "A good win. It was a tough first half but we probably didn't convert our pressure into points in the way we would have wanted to.
"We're a little disappointed at the end not to get that final try and the bonus point but still, we're pretty delighted with the win."
Ulster: M Lowry; C Gilroy, W Addison; S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Best (c), R Kane, A O'Connor, I Henderson, M Coetzee, J Murphy, M Timoney.
Replacements: A McBurney, K Treadwell, E O'Sullivan, M Moore, S Reidy, D Shanahan, A Curtis, A Kernohan.
Leicester: Holmes, Thompstone, Tuilagi, Eastmond, Olowofela, Ford, Youngs, Bateman, Youngs (c), Cole, Williams, Wells, Thompson, O'Connor, Kalamafoni
Replacements: Polota-Nau, Feao, Heyes, Lewis, Reffell, Harrison, Toomua, Owen
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