Leicester Tigers 33-24 Ulster: George Ford inspires stunning comeback for Lions coaches for Steve Borthwick’s men to seal first European final in 12 years
- Leicester Tigers came from behind and defeated Ulster in the European Challenge Cup
- Steve Borthwick’s men trailed 17-6, but George Ford made a comeback
- The win means the Tigers have reached their first continental final in 12 years
- Freddie Steward and Ellis Genge also played in the semi-finals of Welford Park
England fly-half George Ford orchestrated a stunning Leicester fightback on Welford Road last night to propel the Tigers to their first European final in 12 years.
Steve Borthwick’s team-in-transition claimed a place in the Challenge Cup decider at Twickenham on May 21 when they came back from 17-6 to avoid another painful ordeal against Ulster.
Ford was the ring master as he tormented the visitors with his dazzling distribution and his spiral bombs, kicking 18 points in a Man of the Match exhibit of his playmaker repertoire.
George Ford (right) was the hero of the Leicester Tigers when they came from 17-6 to defeat Ulster
The Tigers have now reached their first European final in 12 years via their comeback win
Ford also demonstrated his leadership certificates, in the presence of Lions coaches Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy. He’s unlikely to make his way into the original Lions squad, but he showed he can be an influential and reliable standby option if needed.
He can take on former club mates in the final as Leicester can take on Bath, who will take on Montpellier in The Rec tonight. Whoever they face, this is a sign that the overhaul Borthwick has carried out at the East Midlands club is starting to produce tangible results.
“It’s a great achievement,” said Ford. ‘We’ve done well to get to this point. We have given ourselves the opportunity to win a trophy. I’m really proud of the guys for holding on to it and coming back like we did in the second half.
It was definitely the physicality and the clashes that let us down (in the first half). We were quite passive, and Ulster came to us. The good thing is that we have received a response. Maybe we wouldn’t have gotten that in recent years. ‘
Freddie Steward was also one that made an impression for Leicester and a call-up in England certainly beckons
When asked what it would mean for the club to win a European title for the first time since 2002, Ford added: “It’s going to mean a lot. We want to finish this now. ‘
Leicester’s achievement was down to more than one man. This performance served as another showcase of Freddie Steward’s emerging talent – especially his prowess in the air – and the rookie fullback is certainly on track for an England debut in the near future.
Up front, Red Rose prop Ellis Genge was a thunderous, try-scoring asset to the Tigers and yet could be of interest to the Lions too.
Leicester would have been wary of these adversaries given their poor European record against them. In 10 previous encounters, Ulster had won seven times. Some of the worst humiliations the Tigers have ever suffered had taken place against this Irish province, most notably 33-0 and 41-7 defeats in Belfast.
Ulster started it lighter and captain Iain Henderson went over to put down a solid lead
Dan MacFarland’s side took control last night with two tries in the first half, while Tigers captain Tom Youngs was trapped. Ulster’s skipper and Lions lock contender Iain Henderson was forced to cross for his side’s opener before Billy Burns shot through a hole to score on the left. John Cooney’s conversions made it 17-6 at the break.
But Leicester changed after halftime, when Borthwick made three pack changes and his players came to life.
Nemani Nadolo – underutilized in the first half – contributed vigorously to trigger a sweeping heist that ended with Jasper Wiese turning over for a Ford-converted attempt.
But England’s Ellis Genge (right) went on to start the comeback forged by fly-half Ford
A 50-minute penalty kick from the hosts’ No. 10 narrowed Ulster’s lead to one point and the strength was with Leicester.
Sure enough, they continued as soon as Steward threatened again and Ford’s great long pass enabled Genge to finish. Ford repented and added a drop goal to give the Tigers more than a score.
Ulster was not going to calm down and 12 minutes before time, number 8 Nick Timoney galloped 35 meters for an attempt that converted Michael Lowry to set up a final in the stands. But Leicester stifled the turnout when Guy Porter landed on the right and Ford landed the wide-open conversion with confidence.