The Challenge Cup dream is over after a second half capitulation at the hands of Leicester Tigers on Friday night.
Iain Henderson and Billy Burns got Ulster off to a flying start with tries while John Cooney slotted two conversions and one penalty giving Ulster a 17-6 lead at the interval.
But that was as good as it got for the Ulstermen as things went from bad, when Cooney left the pitch, to worse, when Tigers scored two tries hauling them to within a point of Ulster. The second half was a capitulation of monstrous proportions with only a Nick Timoney converted try the answer two 27 Leicester Tigers’ points.
Leicester Tigers (6) 33
TRY: Jasper Wiese, Ellis Genge, Guy Porter
CON: George Ford (3)
PEN: George Ford (3)
DG: George Ford
Ulster (17) 24
TRY: Iain Henderson, Billy Burns, Nick Timoney
CON: John Cooney (2), Michael Lowry
PEN: John Cooney
Helped by Leicester indiscipline, Ulster made a roaring start to the match. The forwards put Tigers on the back foot with Matthew Rea, Henderson, Timoney and Jordi Murphy all providing a platform with very strong carries.
The possession and territory statistics were firmly in the away side’s favour in the first half and this helped alleviate the threat of Ellis Genge, Nemani Nadolo and Jasper Wiese with the ball in hand.
However, it was Leinster that took the lead on six minutes with George Ford knocking over a penalty on his second attempt. Cooney replied minutes later and Ulster took the lead on the quarter hour as Henderson powered over following a yellow card for Leicesters Tom Youngs. Cooney converted to give Ulstert a 3 – 10 lead.
Ford replied with a second penalty but Ulster made their dominance count, working an overlap for Burns to glide through for a simple score and Cooney’s conversion pushed the score along to 6 – 17 after 21 minutes.
Somewhat ominously, Leicester shored up their defence and the half ended without further score. Ulster lost the talismanic Cooney, to injury, at the start of the second half and a whipped up Leicester started to get on top.
Wiese powered over for their first try, converted by Ford, after good work by Nadolo and Ford added a simple penalty on the 49th minute to make it a one point game.
The home onslaught continued and Genge rescued a scoring chance bu battling over on the left. Ford added the conversion and minutes later knocked over a drop goal to give Leicester a 26 – 17 lead on the 58th minute.
A battered Ulster found some response in the final quarter with sprinting clear to slide over and with Michael Lowry adding the conversion it was back to a three point game with 13 minutes remaining.
However, that was it for Ulster and Leicester wrapped the game up six minutes later with a try in the corner, from Guy Porter, expertly converted by Ford.
Final score: Leicester 33 Ulster 24
Leicester will now take on Montpellier in the Challenge Cup Final on Friday 21st May at Twickenham stadium. Kick of 20:00.
LEICESTER TIGERS: Freddie Steward, Guy Porter, Matias Moroni, Matt Scott, Nemani Nadolo, George Ford, Richard Wigglesworth, Ellis Genge, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Harry Wells, Calum Green, George Martin, Hanro Liebenberg, Jasper Wiese. Replacements: Charlie Clare, Luan de Bruin, Joe Heyes, Tomas Lavanini, Cyle Brink, Ben Youngs, Zack Henry, Kini Murimurivalu.
ULSTER: Jacob Stockdale, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson, Matthew Rea, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney. Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Alby Mathewson, Michael Lowry, Will Addison.