European Rugby Champions Cup: Darren Cave stars as Ulster beat Leicester 26-7
Last Updated: 24/01/15 9:46pm
Ulster ended two-time European champions Leicester Tigers' hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the European Rugby Champions Cup with a 26-7 triumph in Belfast on Saturday.
Ireland centre Darren Cave, who was handed the uneviable task of filling the No 13 shirt vacated by Brian O'Driscoll for his national side, inspired the victory with a memorable hat-trick of tries, while winger Craig Gilroy chalked up the bonus-point try for the Ulstermen.
Adam Thompstone snatched a consolation try for Leicester, but the result means neither side will progress to the quarter-finals, while reigning European champions Toulon sealed top spot in Pool 3 with a 26-3 win over Scarlets in Wales.
Ulster, who suffered a record 60-22 defeat to group winners Toulon last time out, even managed to hold out with only 13 men on the field - with both props Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst binned - late in the second half and finished the game with only 14.
The match started at a frantic pace with both sides showing a willingness to run from deep and after 10 minutes an Ian Humphreys chip over the top against his old club was just too strong for Luke Marshall.
Ulster struck first in the 19th minute when, after launching wave after wave of attacks beginning with Rory Best's half-break, they moved the ball left and right before a lovely flick from Best kept it alive. Then, with a penalty coming for a high tackle on Gilroy, Humphreys provided the assist for Cave who crossed the Tigers' line.
Humphreys, though, missed the conversion and it was game on with the Tigers throwing everything into attack for the remainder of the half.
Ulster's defence held firm despite being put under intense pressure and they turned defence into attack near the end of the first half to notch their second try.
As the Tigers pushed for a try, Humphreys' hack downfield ultimately created their 38th-minute score after Roger Wilson and Alan O'Connor pounced on some loose ball. The home side sensed a chance was on and Humphreys looped a defender before passing inside to Cave who scorched over under the posts for his second of the night.
This time Ruan Pienaar converted and Ulster went in at half-time leading 12-0.
That quickly became 17-0 three minutes in after Mike McComish initiated the move by breaking free off a driving maul and, after moving the ball left and right, Cave got over for his hat-trick.
Pienaar converted to make it 19-0 and the Tigers' hopes were all but gone, especially with Vereniki Goneva yellow carded in the 45th minute for what appeared to be a high tackle.
The score became 24-0 shortly afterwards when Gilroy got over in the left corner from a scrum which also brought Ulster a try bonus, and Pienaar superbly converted to give the home side a 26-0 lead.
The Tigers finally got on the board when Thompstone smashed over in the 53rd minute and Freddie Burns' conversion got the visitors going just before Goneva returned.
Thompstone's score gave the Tigers renewed hope and when Black was shown yellow in the 61st minute for lowering the scrum, the visitors sensed an opportunity as they were encamped near Ulster's line.
They failed and then when Herbst was binned in the 71st minute, 13-man Ulster held out for several minutes before they finished with 14 on the park and with the Tigers well beaten and out of Europe.