Ulster win rings a bell for Jonny

Leicester 19 Ulster 22

Ulster win rings a bell for Jonny

The then Ireland centre had single-handedly stifled a French outfit who had plans on running Ulster ragged. Bell suffocated Colomiers that day. Both Bell and Humphreys were sitting together in the Welford Road stands on Saturday. Undoubtedly, following a classical Heineken Cup tie, Bell, now in charge of Ulster’s defensive systems, will relish having seen his side stifle the Tigers with a hugely effective tackling strategy.

You can say what you like about Leicester in that some key men were absent, but ultimately it came down to the fact Ulster simply choked the life out of them. Yes, you can say Ruan Pienaar grabbed all their points with an exceptional man-of-the-match performance. But, for a half-back to perform at such an imperious level, he needs a barricade in front of him. Pienaar had just that with a pack who finally found their mojo at the right time when they went 10 points behind in the second-half, and skipper Johann Muller finally found the inspiration to drag every last big of juice out of them.

Flanker Chris Henry was immense at the breakdown while Robbie Diack was ~inspirational when he came on for a tiring Nick Williams. The scrum did creak now and again, but when it needed to rescue the game, it came good, particularly in replacement Tom Court earning a vital penalty three minutes from time.

The look on the soon-to-be-departing Court said it all about Ulster and what it means to be top seeds and gaining a home quarter-final at Ravenhill in April when former coach and player Mark McCall will be bringing his Saracens side. It will be a repeat of last season’s quarter-final when Sarries were too good for the Ulstermen at Twickenham.

Playing at Ravenhill, though, will be a different matter, particularly when the 18,000-plus stadium is completed.

One word of caution for Ulster. No team has managed to win the Heineken Cup, and there have been nine to date, who have had 100% record in their pool. However, that doesn’t matter to Pienaar: “I’m not superstitious,” said Pienaar who kicked five penalties, two inside his own half, and converted his own 58th minute try when he charged down Toby Flood’s clearance kick. All eight teams through are tough no matter where you play them. We’re thankful it’s going to be at Ravenhill because we’ve got great support there.

“The stadium is looking great, but no matter who we face it’s going to be tough. We’ll keep working hard, keep our feet on the ground and, hopefully, we can progress further,” said Pienaar.

Muller, meanwhile, is heading home to Mossel Bay in the eastern Cape for a short break and to consider his future in rugby. But he also paid his dues to his fellow Springbok.

“It seems like it’s happening every week, when he scores all the points,” said Muller, who many believe will hang up his boots at the end of the season.

“I came to Welford Road on Friday to do kicking practice and he did not miss one all day. He was outstanding and kicked them from distance. From a captain’s point of view it gives you a lot of confidence.

“A huge amount of credit to him and it doesn’t just happen. He puts a huge amount of work in, he puts hours and hours into his kicking and it’s wonderful when it pays off.”

What does Muller think of a rematch with Saracens? Ulster’s win means they top Pool Five with six wins out of six and in April will have a chance to avenge last season’s quarter-final defeat at Saracens.

“Sarries totally outplayed us last season. They are a great side and don’t mind going away to get a result. It’s two months away and at this stage we will just enjoy the moment. We have not achieved anything yet and there’s a huge amount of work left if we are to achieve something.”

Leicester scorers: Tries: Morris. Cons: Flood. Pens: Flood 4.

LEICESTER: Tait, Morris, Smith, Allen, Goneva, Flood, B. Youngs, Ayerza, T. Youngs, Cole, Slater, Kitchener, Gibson, Salvi, Crane.

Replacements: Hamilton for Tait (38), Mele for B. Youngs (69), Hawkins for T. Youngs (68), Deacon for Kitchener (46), Mafi for Crane (19). Not Used: Stankovich, Balmain, Williams.

Ulster scorers: Tries: Pienaar. Cons: Pienaar. Pens: Pienaar 5.

ULSTER: Payne, Trimble, Cave, L. Marshall, Gilroy, P. Jackson, Pienaar, Black, Best, Afoa, Muller, Tuohy, Wilson, Henry, Williams.

Replacements: Diack for Williams (55), Henderson for Tuohy (64), Court for Black (55).

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU).

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