Ulster recovered from conceding an early try by Leicester prop Logovi’i Mulipola to win their opening Heineken Cup match at Ravenhill last night.
Mulipola crashed over in the corner after the Tigers made a fiery start, and captain Toby Flood added the conversion to give the English club a 7-0 lead.
But British Lions winger Tommy Bowe gathered a crossfield kick by the influential Paddy Jackson to race over for a try to draw battling Ulster level on 15 minutes, and set up an enthralling encounter in which either side could have won.
Fly-half Jackson was in superb form with the boot throughout the night and kicked five penalties as well as the conversion for an outstanding match tally of 17 points.
However, Leicester were always in contention through their ever-competitive pack and secured a losing bonus point when replacement Owen Williams landed a penalty with the last score of the night.
Scorers: Ulster - Tries: Bowe Conversions: Jackson Penalties: Jackson (5) Leicester - Tries: Mulipola Conversions: Flood Penalties: Flood(2), Williams
Ulster: Payne; Trimble, Cave, L Marshall, Bowe; Jackson, P Marshall; Court, Best, Fitzpatrick, Muller, Tuohy, Wilson, Henry, Williams. Replacements: Herring, Black, Lutton, Henderson, Diack, Pienaar, Olding, Allen.
Leicester: Morris; Benjamin, Goneva, Bowden, Thompstone; Flood, B Youngs; Mulipola, T Youngs, Cole, Deacon, Parling, Slater, Salvi, Crane. Replacements: Briggs, Stankovich, Balmain, Kitchener, Waldrom, Mele, Williams, Hepetema. Referee: R Poite (France).
Connacht 23 Saracens 17
Premiership leaders Saracens were made to fight tooth and nail for a 23-17 opening win, needing a late Owen Farrell penalty to edge past a hugely determined Connacht side.
A brace of penalties from Farrell were the only scores of a defence-dominated second half at the Sportsground, as 8-1 outsiders Connacht – inspired by man of the match Kieran Marmion – stayed in the hunt for a shock victory.
They almost got it right at the death as bodies piled in close to the Sarries line, but replacements Aly Muldowney and Paul O’Donohoe were held up short and the relieved visitors got out of Galway with the points.
Meanwhile, London Irish kicked off their Amlin Challenge Cup campaign with a comfortable 60-11 victory over Italian minnows Cavalieri Prato at the Madejski Stadium.
Fergus Mulchrone scored twice in the second half as the Exiles cantered to a nine-try win in Pool 5.
It was not completely plain sailing for the Exiles who saw prop Leo Halavatau sin-binned and conceded a late try to the part-timers.
Myles Dorian, who ended the game with 20 points, kicked the opening penalty after five minutes.
Hooker Jimmy Stevens was at the heart of a devastating driving lineout to claim the opening try after 11 minutes. Dorian missed the conversion but skipped over for a try, which he converted, following a delightful pass from lock Bryn Evans. Andrew Fenby and Sailsi Tagicakibau then crossed to secure a bonus point.