HERE WE GO. It’s time to get the 2013/14 Heineken Cup underway. With the tournament’s future still in major doubt, it’s good to be able to focus on the rugby once again.
Ulster get their Pool 5 campaign underway with the visit of Premiership champions Leicester Tigers in what should be another titanic clash at Ravenhill. We’ll have live minute-by-minute updates for you. We’ll also bring news from the Sportsground, where Connacht host the mighty power of Saracens, and there’ll be a full report from Galway on the final whistle.
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Ulster 22 – 16 Leicester Tigers
19.30 – Welcome to another season of Heineken Cup rugby. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m giddy about European club rugby’s premier tournament getting underway at Ravenhill and in Galway.
Ulster take on a Leicester Tigers side who have had a decent start to the Premiership with three wins in five games, and a draw against Northampton last weekend. Richard Cockerill will be reminding his men of the 41-7 hammering they suffered here two seasons ago.
So time to get your early predictions in… Are Ulster going to start their Heineken Cup campaign with a bang or is an away win on the cards? For what it’s worth, I’m going for Ulster by 5 points. SUFTUM!
19.34 – Here are the teams for this evening’s game:
Ulster: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Tommy Bowe; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rory Best, Declan Fitzpatrick; Johann Muller (c), Dan Tuohy; Roger Wilson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Ricky Lutton, Iain Henderson, Robbie Diack, Ruan Pienaar, Stuart Olding, Michael Allen.
Leicester: Niall Morris; Miles Benjamin, Vereniki Goneva, Dan Bowden, Adam Thompstone; Toby Flood (capt), Ben Youngs; Logovii Mulipola, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Louis Deacon, Geoff Parling, Ed Slater, Julian Salvi, Jordan Crane.Replacements: Neil Briggs, Boris Stankovich, Fraser Balmain, Graham Kitchener, Thomas Waldrom, David Mele, Owen Williams, Terrence Hepetema.
19.41 – Here’s a quick reminder of how Ulster got on the last time Leicester visited Ravenhill for a Heineken Cup pool game. A repeat of that unforgettable night seems unlikely…
YouTube credit: Alfred Wallace Rugby 2012
19.47 – Just under 15 minutes until kick-off and here are three of the key head-to-heads we picked out today.
Where do you see the game being won and lost? Will Paddy Jackson deliver at out-half without the calming presence of Ruan Pienaar inside him? Can Ulster dominate this one up front? Let us know yout thoughts.
19.50 – There’s been a late change to the Connacht team over at the Sportsground:
19.52 – One man to keep an eye on tonight is former Leinster man Niall Morris, who starts at fullback for the Tigers. The 25-year-old was part of the most recent Ireland training camp at Carton House.
Can he outshine Jared Payne?
19.55 – Ulster can count on one of their most famous supporters tonight with the return of Rory McIlory. Will he prove a lucky charm for Mark Anscombe’s side?
19.57 – Less than five minutes until kick-off at Ravenhill. Last chance to get your pre-match predictions in. Ulster with a home win to get their European quest underway? Or the Tigers to spoil the party?
19.59 – The lineout battle could be crucial tonight. Geoff Parling will be well aware of Rory Best’s potential for wobbles in that area and will be looking to target his throw. Can Dan Tuohy and Johann Muller secure enough ball to get their undoubtedly talented backline going forward?
20.01 – Both teams are out on the pitch and we’re all set for kick-off. Great atmosphere at Ravenhill.
20.05 – So very nearly a perfect start for Ulster as they create an overlap down the left and Tommy Bowe’s pass is too far in front of Darren Cave and into tough. Definitely a miss opportunity early on for Ulster. Leicester managed to clear out of their 22 through Ben Youngs. Good start for Ulster, but a missed chance with a poor pass from Bowe.
20.06 – Rory Best overthrew his first lineout, but overall Ulster will be happy with their start to this game. Luke Marshall threatened down the right in the build-up to that chance for Cave, showing nice skills to offload to Jared Payne.
Ulster 0-7 Leicester
Disaster for Ulster as the Tigers score with their first attack of the game after just 6 minutes. Their powerful scrum gave them a mauling platform and from there they went wide to the left. Toby Flood ghosted through a hole in the Ulster defence and when possession was recycled, Mulipola was on hand to dot down wide on the right. Flood converts.
20.11 – Bad news from Galway too as Connacht are 14-3 down to Saracens already, two converted tries and it looks like being a difficult night for Pat Lam’s men.
20.13 – Back at Ravenhill, the defence from Ulster in the lead-up to Mulipola’s try was worrying. Holes in midfield and no sign of a scramble once they’d been cut open. Much better effort needed from Muller and co. when the Tigers have possession.
20.14 – A beautiful kick from Jared Payne puts Ulster deep into the Tigers’ 22. A good chance to create pressure here, particularly as Leicester look to have settled in well. Ulster’s last attacking effort was met by a powerful wall of Tigers’ defenders.
20.15 – Half chance for Ulster there as Payne grubbered though and Trimble collected the bouncing ball, but his offload went straight into Tigers’ hands.
20.17 – Rory Best’s early throws at the lineout have been shaky, but he makes amends with a superb turnover penalty at the breakdown. Overall, Ulster definitely second best in the physical stakes so far. The Tigers are ferocious in contact and look far more up for this Heineken Cup clash. Early days yet, but Ulster need something to get them into the game. Lineout five metres out here…
20.18 – And there it is!!! Tommy Bowe with the try from a wonderful Paddy Jackson cross-field kick!
Ulster 7 – 7 Leicester
A superb team try by Ulster. Best hit Muller at the front of the lineout, the Ulster pack drove forward and Jackson lofted the kick cross-field for Bowe to soar above Niall Morris. Jackson adds the conversion from wide on the left.
20.20 – 17 minutes gone at Ravenhill and Paddy Jackson has been wonderful so far. Looks extremely calm and confident. His kicking from hand has been smooth, in particular for the try, and he’s attacking the gainline with ball in hand. Promising stuff from the 21-year-old.
Ulster 7 – 10 Leicester
Flood benefits from more muscular work by his powerful forwards. From a lineout the Tigers pack rumble forward ominously in the maul before Nick Williams concedes a penalty from coming in from the side. Cockerill’s pack have started superbly.
20.25 – The plaudits are flowing in on Twitter for that wonderful Ulster try. Superb kicking skill from Jackson, and Bowe’s aerial prowess was magnificent. What an athlete.
20.27 – Ulster need to find ways of using their possession more effectively. The Tigers defence has grown into this game, and aside from the try they look comfortable with what Ulster are throwing at them. Romain Poite is starting to get frustrated with the scrums now, but Best is willing to question his judgement!
20.29 – Another penalty for Leicester at the scrum, and Declan Fitzpatrick is the man penalised. That gives Flood the chance to kick into the corner and the Leicester pack has a chance to maul from close in. However, Tom Youngs’ throw is inaccurate and when Ulster clear their lines, Thompstone spills forward as he attempts to field.
20.31 – A third penalty at the scrum against Ulster and only 25 minutes are gone. This is really worrying for Anscombe. He needs his forwards to get a grip on this game if they are not to get themselves refereed out of it by Poite.
20.32 – Andrew Trimble looking nervous under the high ball, spilling two attempted catches so far. Ulster need men like him to show their experience as they are under the cosh at Ravenhill.
20.35 – An 11-phase Leicester attack comes to an end with a penalty for Ulster as Leicester go off their feet at the breakdown. Good recognition of the chance for a turnover by Anscombe’s side as they piled in. That’s more encouraging from a defensive point of view and the Ravenhill crowd have something to cheer about.
20.36 – Penalty for Ulster as they go back on the attack, making yards through Bowe and Cave. That gives Jackson a chance to level the scores. The build-up to this chance featured another lovely bomb by the young out-half. Very composed start.
Ulster 10 – 10 Leicester
And it’s all even again. Faultless from Jackson so far.
20.38 – It’s a draw in Galway too as Danie Poolman scores to make it Connacht 17 -17 Saracens. Inspiring scoreline, with both Irish sides kicking into life now.
20.40 – 35 minutes gone at Ravenhill and Jared Payne has just put in another exquisite sweeping kick in behind Leicester. His intelligence and awareness is second to none. There is a real sense that Ulster are starting to shift up a gear here ahead of half-time.
20.43 – Tommy Bowe is showing his class so far, even if his try is ignored. Every touch he has made has been laced with decisiveness and power. Paddy Jackson should be looking to get the ball into his hands at every available opportunity.
20.45 – Wonderful play from Paul Marshall, who snipes through the Leicester defence and nearly beats Morris at fullback. Fitzpatrick, Best and Muller all make strong carries as the forwards try to batter their way through for a second Ulster try. The Tigers conceded a fairly cynical penalty, handling in the ruck and Jackson has elected to go for the post from around 10 metres in from the right-hand touchline.
Half time: Ulster 13 – 10 Leicester
20.47 – Jackson slots the penalty to reward Ulster’s resurgence in the last 10 minutes. This is a superb game at Ravenhill between two committed sides. Could go either way in the second half, but the Tigers will be down-hearted that their physicality hasn’t been rewarded with the half-time lead.
20.50 – The half time score from the Sportsground is Connacht 17 – 17 Saracens. Hugely encouraging to see that after what was a disappointing opening quarter for Pat Lam’s men.
20.52 – Much praise for the magic of the Heineken Cup in Twitterland, and it’s very hard to argue. This game is more tense and closely-fought than anything else we’ve seen so far his season.
20.56 – So what are your thoughts on that first-half? Worrying signs for Ulster up front, but they came back strongly in the 10 minutes before half-time. Can they go on and secure a first European victory of the season?
Paddy Jackson has been so assured at out-half for Ulster, is there any need to bring Pienaar on? Who else has impressed you for Ulster?
It’s tight at half-time in Ravenhill. ©INPHO/Presseye/Brian Little.
21.00 – Ulster have had several more chances than the scoreline might suggest. Not try-scoring chances, but opportunities to create scores in the Tigers’ territory. There is definitely another burst of power to come from the Premiership champions, so one aim in the second half for Ulster should be converting good field position into points.
21.03 – SECOND HALF commences with some particularly interested spectators in the stands at Ravenhill.
21.05 – Paddy Jackson intercepts and runs the length of the field to touch down… But he hadn’t heard Poite’s whistle for offside against Ulster. Goneva made a searing break for the Tigers and they had an overlapy down the right until Ulster came offside. Could have been cause for a yellow card there. Flood lines up the kick from just to the right of the posts…
21.05 – And he’s on target to level the scores once again. The Ulster crowd aren’t too happy with that one and the boos ring out.
Ulster 13 – 13 Leicester
21.07 – Lots of agreement on Twitter with the Ulster support at Ravenhill concerning that call from Poite. Jackson’s ‘try’ could have changed the game.
21.09 – Ruan Pienaar enters the fray after just 47 minutes. Time to celebrate signing that new three-year contract in style? Can he ensure an Ulster win here?
21.10 – Excellent work at the breakdown by Darren Cave to win a penalty there. A big game for the outside centre, with his position under threat from Payne in the long-term.
21.12 – What a try by Ulster!!! Darren Cave scores after a magical series of offloads. But wait… Romain Poite goes to the TMO to get a judgement on whether or not there was a forwards pass in the build up.
21.12 – TRY DISALLOWED
21.14 – The TMO ruled that there was a forward pass involved as Ulster counter-attacked and offloaded three time in succession. Disappointing outcome, but wonderful play from Ulster.
21.15 – It’s definitely the right call from Bernard Delmasco on reflection. Certainly a forward pass from Luke Marshall. That’ll be his final involvement as Stuart Olding comes on in the centre. A really exciting talent, let’s see what he can offer.
21.17 – Another frustrating outcome for Ulster again after Nick Williams bursts through onto a Jared Payne offload, but the recycled possession is wasted. Excellent defence from the Tigers to scramble, but it’s certainly a wasted chance.
21.19 – Just before that, Niki Goneva almost got away as he burst onto a flat pass from Flood right on the gainline, but just couldn’t hang on to the ball. If he had done, a try was very likely. The Fijian has frightening pace.
21.20 – Penalty for Ulster, and it’s their first of the day at the scrum. But there is Jackson’s first poor strike of the day from Jackson. Awful strike from the 21-year-old and he will need to forget about that connection quickly.
21.21 – This just about sums up the Paddy Jackson miss from that penalty to the left of the posts, as the Tigers waste an excellent counter-attacking chance from deep.
21.23 – Iain Henderson is on the pitch and Miles Harrison has informed us that the Ireland international bought himself a Mini this week. Strange choice perhaps for such a big lad? Anyway, his dynamic power will be a welcome addition for Ulster with 58 minutes gone.
21.24 – YELLOW CARD for Jordan Crane of Leicester.
21.25 – Crane with another cynical foul as Pienaar looks to move the ball away from the base of the ruck. The back row didn’t roll away after tackling and then tripped Pienaar as he went to pass. That gives Jackson an easy attempt to make up for his last miss.
21.26 – And he does so. An easy penalty from just to the right of the posts to put his side in front as Leicester are down to 14 men.
Ulster 16 – 13 Leicester
21.28 – Pienaar has oozed class since coming on. He looks like he’s not even shedding a bead of sweat, everything is so easy for him. In the build-up to that last penalty he prompted his forward runners onto the ball, guiding them over the gainline and into small holes around the fringes of the rucks. A serious Heineken Cup operator.
21.29 – Leicester are hanging in and get a chance to draw level once again, but Toby Flood misses with a penalty attempt from around 35 metres out on the left.
21.30 – Saracens are back in the lead in Galway thanks to the reliable boot of Owen Farrell. It’s Connacht 17 – 20 Saracens at the Sportsground.
21.31 – Agh! More frustrating finishing for Ulster after Ruan Pienaar makes a beautiful break up the middle of the field on the counter-attack. The home side work a 5-on-3 out on the left but Jared Payne’s firm pass is spilled forward. Pienaar is the best player on the pitch, easily. Pure class.
21.33 – Iain Henderson has made a telling impact off the bench too. His enthusiastic carrying has already come to the fore. The 21-year-old is a rare physical specimen in Ireland. 65 minutes gone and Ulster are well on top.
21.35 – Massive scrum penalty for Ulster! Dan Cole is punished for popping up on the Tigers’ 22 metre line. Excellent work from the entire Ulster pack as they went forward there. Poite will always reward that. Another chance for Jackson and he kicks it. Ulster with a 6-point lead.
Ulster 19 – 13 Leicester
21.37 – Some much-deserved (and rare) love for Tom Court on Twitter after that excellent scrum. Less than 15 minutes left at Ravenhill.
21.38 – Another technically superb breakdown turnover for Ulster as the Tigers went back on the attack. Rory Best once again with the steal. His work on the ground has been simply incredible. Ulster back on the attack again now, inside the Tigers’ 22…
21.41 – Ulster hammer a solid Leicester defence for 15+ phases, tireless work from both sides. But the Tigers eventually crack and concede the penalty. Chance for a 9 point lead now if Jackson can kick this. Crane’s yellow card has been costl
21.42 – And Jackson is successful again, straight through the uprights. Crane returns to the pitch but Ulster are 9 points ahead.
Ulster 22 – 13 Leicester
21.43 – 72 minutes gone at Ravenhill and the Tigers have brought on Owen Williams at out-half. Can the young Welshman change this game late on?
21.44 – Connacht are still three points behind Saracens in Galway. Can they find a late winner of their own. It’s still Connacht 17 -20 Saracens.
21.45 – Back at Ravenhill, Owen Williams has hit the post with a drop goal attempt for the Tigers. A lovely strike from the Welshman, but it rebounds and Ulster clear their lines. Leicester looking for the losing bonus point right now.
21.46 – More pressure for Ulster just outside their own 22. The Tigers are stepping up their efforts to eke something from this game. The Ulster defence remains aggressive though. And then concede the penalty!
21.47 – Williams now with the chance to get the Tigers back into losing bonus point territory.
21.48 – And he hold his nerve to do so. Composed strike from the replacement. Could be crucial in January as the pool finishes.
Ulster 22 – 16 Leicester
21.49 – Saracens have extended their lead over Connacht in Galway from another Farrell kick. Connacht 17 – 23 Saracens with 5 minutes left.
21.50 – Back in Ravenhill, there’s just two minutes left and Ulster have a lineout inside the Leicester halfway. Can they prevent a Tigers losing bonus point?
21.52 – But Andrew Trimble spills the ball forward. There are 30 seconds left on the clock, so the Tigers will have one more attacking opportunity. Trimble has had a poor game, with his handling letting him down on at least three occasions.
21.52 – Word from the Sportsground is that Saracens are clinging on for dear life.
21.53 – FULL TIME at Ravenhill.
21.54 – Leicester win a final penalty at the scrum, but elect to kick the ball into touch and not risk their losing bonus point. It’s all over and Ulster have opened with a win.
Ulster 22 -16 Leicester Full Time
21.55 – And the action has finished in Galways too. Connacht ended the game camped on the Sarries tryline but just couldn’t find an opening. Cruel loss as it looked like they might find a winning score, but heroic effort to come back from an awful start.
Connacht 17 -23 Saracens Full Time
21.58 – Well that was a fantastic night of rugby to open this season’s Heineken Cup. Roger Wilson has been elected man of the match at Ravenhill for his dogged work in the tight. A timely reminder that the 32-year-old can still compete at the top level. Leicester captain Toby Flood says he’ll take the losing bonus point and work from here.
22.02 – That’s it from the Ulster clash with Leicester. A 22-16 win for the home side and fully deserved in the end. The introductions of Ruan Pienaar and Iain Henderson made a huge difference in the second-half. Paddy Jackson had an excellent outing at 10, while Roger Wilson was a powerhouse up front.
Mark Anscombe will be happy with the win, but annoyed that Ulster allowed the Tigers to snatch a bonus point at the death. There will be many more exciting nights in this pool, but it has hammered home one thing for us: there is nothing like the Heineken Cup. Long may it last.
Connacht showed real bravery in Connacht too, but came up just short. Thanks for joining us this evening. Feel free to leave your post-match thoughts in the comments section as always.