Andrew Trimble rampant as Ulster rip Tigers apart
Ulster 41-7 Leicester: A great night for Brian McLaughlin and an extremely satisfying one for watching Ireland coach Declan Kidney at a raucous Ravenhill as Ulster blew Leicester away with an exultant, bonus-point victory which keeps their dream of knock-out Heineken Cup rugby very much alive.
Much of the pre-match focus was on Ulster's five-man foreign contingent justifying their presence in the starting team, which they did to a man, but it was the performances of Andrew Trimble, Stephen Ferris, Rory Best (bar a few off-cue line-outs), Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry, Darren Cave and Craig Gilroy which will have most encouraged Kidney with an eye on next week's Six Nations and Wolfhounds squad announcements.
Ferris was phenomenal, lifting the crowd with a steady stream of hits and surges, while two-try Trimble was scintillating out wide, holding his hand up in a big way for a place in the Ireland back three come February with a Man of the Match display.
Unfortunately, Cave was forced off injured after a very impressive 55 minutes of classic 13 play, while Gilroy looks ready for a step up, his hard running being rewarded with a late touchdown.
The overseas contingent did what they were brought in to do. Ruan Pienaar oozed class throughout off the tee (21 points) and in general play, while John Afoa produced another big game in tight and loose, backed up by Springbok powerhouses Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg.
And, credit where it's due, after a shaky start Stefan Terblanche had a very good night at full-back, putting all his experience and guile to good effect.
Ravenhill is a special place on nights like these and though Leicester tried their best, they simply could not handle the overwhelming intensity.
It was a humiliating affair for the former champions. They were roundly beaten up front, where Thomas Waldrom, the terror of the English Premiership, was battered back every time he tried to build up a head of steam.
And behind, while Geordan Murphy had some fine moments, Billy Twelvetrees struggled to provide composure from pivot as Ulster put the visitors on the back foot throughout.
However, it was the home side who made a nervous start when Best over-cooked his first line-out, followed swiftly by Terblanche spilling a routine catch. However, it was the veteran full-back who sparked Ulster when he set off on a jinking run from his own '22' a minute later.
It set up a superb 70-metre surge of intense, phase-play attack, with Ulster carriers, led by Ferris, Best and Henry, and a superb line by Trimble, tearing into the Leicester defence. It culminated in Trimble crashing over in the right corner, via the TMO, Pienaar banging over a quality touchline conversion.
When the scrum-half added a 45-metre penalty for a 10-0 lead after 11 minutes the Tigers looked shell-shocked by the intensity of the home effort and occasion itself.
However, a sloppy turnover from the restart gave Leicester scrum possession just inside the Ulster '22' and when Twelvetrees sucked in a couple of defenders, Murphy scooted over, Twelvetrees hitting an excellent conversion for 10-7.
Leicester then enjoyed their best period of possession, but, for all the ball in hand, the Tigers lacked direction and when Best orchestrated a superb turnover, Pienaar made it 13-7 with another long-range kick. Leicester indecision and indiscipline was playing into Ulster hands, with Romain Poite racking up the penalties against the visitors.
In addition, the home side, roared on by their passionate supporters, were meeting Leicester's bullying tactics head-on, and when Best won another turnover half-way, it led to a five-metre scrum when brilliant chasing by Trimble forced Horacio Agulla behind his own line.
From a solid platform, Ulster went right and a skip-pass from Pienaar saw Trimble burn Alesana Tuilagi for his second try in the same corner, although Pienaar was unable to convert.
Still, at 18-7, Ulster went into the break with all the momentum, three lost line-outs the only caveat after a compelling first-half display.
Infuriatingly for Tigers coach Richard Cockerill, Twelvetrees hit the post after Ulster handed him a perfect penalty opportunity in front of the posts by fluffing the restart.
This was followed by a Rob Hawkins fumble, brilliantly pounced on by Trimble, and an explosive clean-out by Ferris set up a Pienaar penalty, swiftly followed by two more in the next nine minutes, and at 27-7 with 17 minutes to go, it was time to chase the bonus point.
The Tigers were a rabble by this stage, handing Ulster possession through needless errors and lack of discipline typified by substitute Dan Cole being dispatched to the bin.
Ulster came hard and superb work by Wannenburg sent Gilroy screaming for the line, with Pienaar converting for 34-7.
Ravenhill was in no mood for sympathy, delighting in belting out a mocking chorus of 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot', followed by a chant of 'Easy, Easy' when substitute scrum-half Paul Marshall flew over for the bonus-point clincher.
A momentous victory for McLaughlin and his men, one of their best ever, and it sends them to Clermont in fine fettle -- they will not fear the Stade Marcel Michelin after this.
ULSTER -- S Terblanche (A D'Arcy 77); A Trimble, D Cave (I Whitten 57), P Wallace, C Gilroy; I Humphreys (P Marshall 65), R Pienaar; T Court (C Black 77), R Best (N Brady 77), J Afoa (A Macklin 77); J Muller (capt), D Tuohy; S Ferris (L Stevenson 73), C Henry, P Wannenburg (W Faloon 70).
LEICESTER -- G Murphy; H Agulla, M Smith (J Staunton 59), A Allen, A Tuilagi; B Twelvetrees, B Youngs; M Ayerza, R Hawkins (G Chuter 65), M Castrogiovanni (D Cole 55); S Mafi, G Parling (B Woods 74); T Croft, J Savi, T Waldrom.
REF -- R Poite (France)