Bath 10 Ulster 28
Ulster kept their European competition hope alive with a determined win against Bath with tries from Trimble, Cave and Wallace. However, as it stands, qualification for the knock out stages of the Challenge Cup is still dependant on results at Newport, Harlequins and Sale.
Having said that it would take some fairly freaky results for Ulster not to go through as the forth or fifth ranked Pool runner up to face either Toulon, Wasps, Leeds or Bourgoin in the Quarter Finals in April.
The match itself was a strange affair. Ulster had no doubt that this was a tremendous opportunity for their first Heineken Cup win on English soil whereas Bath seemed a little unsure of how to approach the game and the ball took the aerial route more often than not.
Thanks to the more aggressive follow ups by Ulster and the greater accuracy of O’Connor’s boot, both out of hand and off the tee, Ulster found themselves 0 – 6 up after twenty minutes and with Bath showing very little a straightforward win appeared to be there for the asking.
Unfortunately after a second botched restart Ulster gifted the ball to Bath who moved it quickly through their hands for the hugely overrated Banahan to stroll in at the corner. Little converted from wide to give Bath a 7 – 6 lead.
Bath now appeared interested but Ulster kept them out fairly easily and gradually worked their way up field where around the half hour mark the lumbering Danny Grewcock gave ample demonstration of why the over pumped, testosterone fuelled, intelligence lite, Guinness Premiership has struggled to get one qualifier through to the knock out stages of the Heineken Cup. The look of confusion on his face as he trudged off after his grinding stamp on Ferris’ arm said all that needs to be said for his lack of understanding of the consequences of his actions.
O’Connor duly slotted the resulting penalty and with Ulster leading 7 – 9 the game was there for the taking. However despite Ulster now having a man advantage the first half petered out in midfield mêlée’s.
The memory of a tepid first half was soon wiped clean as shortly after the restart Andrew Trimble ran in one of the tries of the tournament. His seventy yard burst of power and pace left the Bath defence flapping in his wake as he powered over for a spectacular try and when Danielli ripped open his old side to put Darren Cave through under the posts the impossible dream of Heineken Cup qualification must have flickered through every Ulster supporters thoughts. Those watching at home checked and double checked the Edinburgh game and those at the game texted home for score updates and when Edinburgh went into the lead in their game the nervous energy cranked up a notch.
However Ulster were denied on both fronts as Stade held on and Bath produced a battling second half display. Where the English game currently lacks skill and finesse it still has plenty of good old intestinal fortitude which Bath showed in spades as they fought their way back into the game with a dogged display which saw Ulster often on the back foot.
It was however Ulster who finally stamped their class on the game with the dancing feet of Paddy Wallace cutting through the Bath defence to score under the posts in the closing minutes of the game.
Irrespective of the final outcome concerning qualification for the Amlin Challenge Cup this victory marks a significant improvement on past performances for Ulster and all credit must go to the management team who got the tactics exactly right by opting for Niall O’Connor’s defensive qualities ahead of Ian Humphreys attacking exuberance. It was a controlled display by the young out half which should ratchet the performance of both out-halfs up a notch for the remainder of the season.