I’d had my worries before the game that the back row of Diack, Birch and Williams would struggle to cope with their Leicester counterparts but the Ulster players more than held their own. Robbie Diack was particularly impressive, being one of only two players to play the full 80 minutes, and the South African appears to have taken up where he left off last season, continuing to add a harder edge to his game with a man of the match performance.
Chris Farrell, the only other player to feature for the full 80, was the pick of the young backline, though a lovely cameo from Peter Nelson in the final quarter certainly caught the eye.
Pleasingly the two players under most pressure from the fickle supporters, Nick Williams and Niall O’Connor, both had solid games with O’Connor looking particularly impressive, showcasing some huge kicks in his, wind assisted, first half performance. Williams looked busy throughout but he did noticeably tire, before being swapped out at the break.
Ulster opened the scoring on the 27th minute with a penalty try. John Afoa came on for Declan Fitzpatrick, no doubt ordered to be kept fit by the IRFU, and the big New Zealander had an immediate effect as the Ulster scrum pushed the Leicester pack back at a rate of knots towards their ow line. Clancy, no doubt wanting to make up for past indiscretions against Ulster, immediately awarded the penalty try as the Leicester front row popped up and Niall O’Connor had the easiest of kicks to open his points tally.
The home side dominated the remainder of the half but neither side came close to troubling the scoreboard.
Leicester enjoyed the bulk of the second half as both sides made numerous changes. Ulster brought on Ricky Lutton, Mike McComish, Neil McComb, Sean Doyle and Paddy Jackson at the break and added Blane McIlroy, Rob Herring, Adam Macklin, Stuart Olding, Ricky Andrews and Peter Nelson throughout the second half. With the changes adding a degree of instability it looked like Leicester were going to record their first win at Ravenhill when first Goneva and then Waldron went over for tries mid way through the second half.
Ulster, to their credit, refused to give up and with three minutes left on the clock Chris Cochrane sliced through the Tigers defence to score under the posts. Jackson added the extras to tie the game.
Nelson almost stole the game with a scintillating run down the right wing but with the youngster bundled into touch just short of the line the games ended with honours even.
Ulster: Jared Payne, Chris Cochrane, Chris Farrell, Luke Marshall, Michael Allen, Niall O’Connor, Michael Heaney, Callum Black, Nigel Brady, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (c), Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Ali Birch, Nick Williams. Replacements: Ricky Lutton, Rob Herring, Niall Annett, John Afoa, Adam Macklin, Neil McComb, Mike McComish, Sean Doyle, Blane McIlroy, Patrick Jackson, Stuart Olding, Ricky Andrews, Peter Nelson.
Leicester: G Murphy (c), S Hamilton, M Tuilagi, A Allen, V Goniva, T Flood, M Young, M Castrogiovanni, T Youngs, D Cole, S Mafi, G Parling, B Deacon, J Salvi, T Waldrom. Replacements: R Hawkins, G Chuter, F Balmain, K Brookes, R Bower, J Cain, R Thorpe, H Wells, J Crane, P Phibbs, S Harrison, G Ford, N Morris, M Smith, A Symons, A Lewington
Well done them!