Ulster keep Cup hopes alive
Irish outfit scrape win with late penalty in Belfast
By Simon Dilger. Last Updated: 15/01/11 6:01pm
Ulster: Narrow victory
Ulster scraped a dour Heineken Cup 9-6 victory over Biarritz in miserable conditions at Ravenhill on Saturday.
With both sides deadlocked on six apiece and just three minutes to go, fly-half Ian Humphreys struck a superb long-range penalty under pressure to seal a crucial win for the hosts.
The win leaves Ulster, who face Italian minnows Aironi next week, looking on course for qualification from Pool Four.
Biarritz's losing bonus point could yet prove crucial to who tops the group and the French side look more likely to qualify should they beat Bath.
But if Ulster win at Aironi they could be on target to get through as one of the two best runners-up in the competition.
Ulster, kicking-off into a fierce headwind, asserted their authority from the start and before long Humphreys had a chance to boot the hosts into an early lead.
But the competition's most accurate kicker so far could only watch as his fourth minute penalty from 40 metres hung up in the strong breeze and fell short of the target.
Biarritz were reduced to 14 men on 13 minutes when giant Norwegian lock Erik Lund was sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball.
Six minutes later though, it was the visitors who struck the first blow, despite having seen little of the ball so far, when scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili slotted a penalty to give the Frenchmen a 3-0 lead.
Moments later however, Iain Balshaw needed all his pace to prevent fullback Adam D'Arcy going over in the right corner at the opposite end.
A superb attack from a midfield lineout on the left saw Ulster spread the ball quickly across the pitch to stretch the French defence to its limit.
But the former England winger eliminated the danger with a magnificent touchline tackle to bundle D'Arcy in touch.
The same pair were involved again on the half-hour, Balshaw tracking back to deny the Australian fullback once more and rescue his side for a second time.
By now the rain was lashing down on Ravenhill, but that did not prevent Yachvili extending the lead two minutes before half-time with a fine 40-metre penalty.
Despite Biarritz enjoying a 6-0 lead at the break Ulster had remained firmly in control for much of the half.
And with the weather now behind them, the Irishmen looked to have a distinct advantage going into the second period.
Their first points came eight minutes after the restart, Humphreys taking full advantage of the strong tailwind to nail a fantastic penalty from inside his own half and make it 3-6.
He levelled the scores on 57 minutes with another straightforward three-pointer from 25 metres out in front of the posts.
But Biarritz grew in confidence throughout the final quarter and began to enjoy the lion's share of possession.
And as the game entered the final 10 minutes the hosts found themselves firmly pinned back inside their own half and potential Heineken Cup disaster beckoning.
But with just three minutes to go Humphreys was handed an opportunity to secure the victory, when Samiu Vahafolau was penalised at a ruck for holding on to the ball just inside the Ulster half.
And the sharp-shooting fly-half sent the home fans wild as he slotted a fine penalty from more than 50 metres out to clinch the victory.