Leicester Tigers 20-9 Ulster, Heineken Cup, November 19, 2011
Tigers roar to victory over Ulster
November 19, 2011
Marcos Ayerza goes on the charge against Ulster
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Matt Smith's second-half try proved to be the difference between the two sides as Leicester claimed a morale boosting 20-9 win over Ulster in an attritional Heineken Cup battle at Welford Road on Saturday.
With the pool stages shaping up as the most competitive in recent years, small margins could prove to be chasms come quarter-final qualification and as a result, Smith's 67th minute try may prove to be his side's most important score this year. Leicester are struggling in the Aviva Premiership with many players still residing in the physio's room but the second half introduction of one returning star - scrum-half Ben Youngs - ignited the Tigers attack and allowed Toby Flood to drop a perfectly weighted kick into the deadball area for Smith to latch on to and ground for the match-winning score.
Despite their poor league form, it is a sign of the Tigers' depth that they could leave Italy tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni on the bench with Richard Cockerill preferring Dan Cole but even a side of Leicester's vast resources will struggle to patch up the porous centre department with Andy Forsyth limping off in the first-half.
What the game lacked in breathtaking try-scoring action, it made up for in the sheer intensity with the game played predominantly in between the two 22s, rather than near the whitewash. The flyers on show had limited opportunity to showcase their gas and instead it was their fly-halves who kept the scoreboard ticking over in the early exchanges.
The pattern of the game was laid out as early as the second minute with both teams, riding victories in the opening round, contesting the breakdown with gusto. Leicester's Argentinean winger Horacio Agulla was penalised by referee Romain Poite as he attempted to secure the ball and Ian Humphreys stepped up to knock over a penalty from 52 metres. Flood made up for the early lapse in discipline with a penalty of his own five minutes later.
The sides exchanged further penalties before Ulster took the lead in the 19th minute following great work from Rory Best at the breakdown to force Poite into penalising the Tigers. However, much of what the Leicester side did well on the day was due to their dominant forward pack with Thomas Waldrom earning man of the match and Argentinean prop Marcos Ayerza a powerful force throughout.
And it was the Tigers' scrum which gave Flood the opportunity to draw the game level in the 22nd minute from the tee. The England fly-half made no mistake and it proved to be the final score in the opening 40 minutes although Alex Tuilagi nearly crossed the line on the stroke of half-time with three Ulster defenders required to bring the rampaging Samoan down and drag him into touch.
Five minutes into the second-half, Flood gave the Tigers the lead with a well struck penalty from the halfway line after Declan Fitzpatrick was penalised for not binding. And it was a lead they never squandered thanks in part to Youngs' introduction from the bench as he made the most of some weary legs in the Ulster ranks - coupled with some wayward place kicking from Humphyreys - to give the Tigers some vital go forward.
With the clock ticking into the final ten minutes of the match, Smith's score proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Ulster. Poite checked with the Television Match Official but there was never any doubt that Smith's effort - despite suggestions of offside in the build-up - was effectively grounded.
The Tigers pinned Ulster back in their own half in the dying moments of the game and with some good work from Adam Macklin preventing a score after Youngs caught Marshall and took the Ulster man over his own tryline. And it was Flood who had the final say of the match from the tee to give Cockerill's men a hugely significant victory as they look to re-find their roar.
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.