Tuesday 21 November 2017

Ulster hopes dented as Flood steers Tigers to victory

Leicester 20 Ulster 9

Leicester, without a home victory in the Premiership all season, were edgy rather than on edge last night.

They took comfort in the high ball, Ulster retaliated and there were moments when the game became like bagatelle, the ball haphazardly bouncing off bodies, hands and shoulders. Passing proved hazardous. When Ian Humphreys ran from his own half, his pass to Dan Tuohy landed some 10 metres behind the second row, while Leicester's first meaningful attack ended when Toby Flood sent the ball into touch.

It settled into a battle between Humphreys, once of Leicester, and Flood to see not only who could kick the most penalties but also who could land the longest one. Humphreys converted two from a couple of metres inside his own half, while Flood's fourth -- which gave Leicester the lead for the first time five minutes into the second period -- was kicked from just inside Tigers' territory. Neither tryline was seriously threatened for the first hour. Alesana Tuilagi was generally well marshalled, his strongest charge coming just before the break when Leicester moved the ball from deep after their scrum, for once, had not moved forward. Matt Smith and Geordan Murphy made the space for the wing who rampaged through two tackles before being bundled into touch.

Leicester's midfield has been cursed by injuries this season. Their 12s could have been wearing 13 and with 17 minutes gone, Andy Forsyth joined Anthony Allen and Billy Twelvetrees in the treatment room after suffering ankle damage. The Tigers were less assured putting the ball through hands than they were attacking from possession kicked to them, usually through Murphy with Humphreys wayward.

Scrum-half Paul Marshall kicked more effectively and the sequence of kicks at goal was broken on 67 minutes after the Ulster outside-half, for the second time in the match, failed to find touch from a penalty, having earlier missed the chance to level the scores with a 30m kick just to the right of the posts. Leicester, by now fortified by the arrival of the England scrum-half Ben Youngs, moved into the Ulster 22 and attacked with purpose. Ulster had looked the more dangerous side, which was not saying a lot given the little space created all night, but Andrew Trimble roved with some effect and Craig Gilroy had menace, but his clearest opportunity was wasted when the flanker Chris Henry wasted a two-man overlap, with the Leicester defence disorganised after a turnover.

Ulster did not make their half chances tell but Leicester secured the game when Flood's kick along the ground to the line exposed a flat defence and Matt Smith had a race with the ball before it went dead rather than an opponent. Having led three times in the opening half, the Irish side found themselves out of bonus-point range.

Suddenly Leicester looked like their old selves, even if their initially dominant scrum had started to creak. They absorbed Ulster's final attacks and after forcing a turnover on their 22, the Tigers' prop Marcos Ayerza kicked the ball 50m into space. Marshall beat Youngs to the ball, but had to concede a scrum, and within minutes Flood was kicking his fifth penalty of the match.


Leicester: Murphy; Agulla, Smith, Forsyth, A Tuilagi; Flood, Harrison; Ayerza, Chuter, Cole, Deacon, Parling, Croft, Salvi, Waldrom. Replacements: T Youngs for Harrison (57), Stankovich for Ayerza (75), Castrogiovanni for Cole (57), Skivington for Parling (54), Mafi for Croft (75).

Ulster: Danielli; Trimble, Cave, Spence, Gilroy; Humphreys, P Marshall; Court, Best, Fitzpatrick, Muller, Tuohy, Ferris, Henry, Wannenburg. Replacements: D'Arcy for Danielli (68), Jackson for Humphreys (74), Macklin for Fitzpatrick (68).

Referee: R Poite (Fra).

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