Ulster came back from 13 points down to secure a Champions Cup quarter-final spot and keep their chances of grabbing top spot in Pool 4 alive thanks to a hard-fought 14-13 victory over Leicester Tigers at Welford Road
It was a tight first 10 minutes at Welford Road as both sides matched each other, with Ulster looking for a victory that would give them a chance at snatching top spot in Pool 4 should Racing slip up at Scarlets.
Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale was unquestionably Ulster’s standout player in the opening 15 minutes but as the game went on the home side began to look increasingly dangerous especially off the back of the scrum.
With the game going back and forth, the deadlock was finally broken thanks to the boot of George Ford who continued his kicking form to slot over a penalty and give Leicester a 3-0 lead.
The opening score appeared to give Leicester confidence and their continued pressure eventually led to the first try of the game after Ford’s grubber kick split the Ulster defence and allowed Matt Toomua to score after a decision from the TMO.
Leicester began the second half in a similar style to how they ended the first but Ulster were beginning to put some promising phases together when they conceded a penalty for a high tackle which allowed Ford to step up once again and extend the Tigers’ lead to 13 points.
Just as the game looked to be getting away from the Northern province they finally clicked into gear and Marty Moore mauled his way over the Leicester line off the lineout before Cooney knocked over the conversion to bring Ulster right back into the game with 20 minutes left to play.
From there Ulster had their tails up and completed an unlikely comeback to take the lead thanks to a try from 21-year old Robert Baloucone as Cooney again scored the conversion with 15 minutes to play.
Baloucone then proved his worth at the other end in a frantic passage of play which saw him put in a potentially try-saving tackle just a couple of minutes after his try.
Leicester tried their best to get back into the game in the last 10 minutes but could not find a way past the stern Ulster defence as Dan McFarland’s men held out for a vital victory.