Humphreys boots Ulster past Bath
December 11, 2010
Ian Humphreys kicked 17 points for Ulster
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Ulster defeated Bath 22-18 at Ravenhill on Saturday to keep alive their hopes of automatic qualification for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
Fly-half Ian Humphreys slotted 17 points to guide an error-prone Ulster side to a vital victory, with Biarritz's shock defeat to Aironi handing the Irish province further incentive prior to next weekend's rematch with Bath at the Rec.
Despite losing out in the battle for both possession and territory, Bath led at the break thanks to opportunistic tries from fullback Jack Cuthbert and England skipper Lewis Moody. Ulster fought back through the boot of Humphreys and Pedrie Wannenburg, whose interception try proved to be a major turning point.
Olly Barkley, a late call-up to the starting side to win his 100th Bath cap, opened the scoring with a second minute penalty and the Premiership side were soon 10 points to the good after Cuthbert picked off a Humphreys pass to run the length of the field. Ultser had been banging on the door at the other end thanks to Paddy Wallace's smart break and two surges by the superb Stephen Ferris but Bath's giant fullback had other ideas and read the play superbly to snaffle a vital five points. Humphreys bit back with a penaty on 12 minutes but failed with a long-range attempt after Ulster had put the squeeze on at the scrum.
Bath's second try followed another period of pressure from the home team, with Ulster again the architects of their own downfall. A Michael Claassens box-kick evaded both Humphreys and fullback Adam D'Arcy, allowing Moody to collect the ball and break away along the touchline, evading a weak tackle from Nigel Brady to score in the corner.
Barkley missed the conversion and Ulster gained a foothold when visiting prop David Flatman was yellow carded for a high-tackle, the loose-head perhaps paying the price for several borderline challenges by his team-mates. Bath continued to live on the edge however, with some ugly footwork at a ruck from Danny Grewcock eluding the officials and Lee Mears lucky to avoid the sin-bin after cynically preventing Ruan Pienaar from releasing his backline.
Mears' indiscretion allowed Ulster to put further pressure on the Bath scrum from close range but another elementary mistake, an early engagement, allowed the visitors to escape momentarily. After passing up that golden opportunity, Ulster were gifted the try they desired in the form of the game's second intercept. Simon Taylor was the guilty party on this occasion as his lazy pass was expertly gathered by former Springbok Wannenburg, who ran in unopposed.
Humphreys' conversion closed the gap to five points and the Ulster pivot ended the first-half on a high by smashing over a penalty from the halfway line to make it 15-13 at the break. Barkley slotted the first points of the second-half after Bath got the upper hand at the scrum for the first time and the home side served up another notable error as Pienaar missed touch from a penalty after Banahan had again been called up for a high tackle.
Humphreys closed the gap to two with another penalty but Ulster again saw a try go begging when dominating possession as loose-head Tom Court was held up inches short by a desparing tackle from Nick Abendanon. Bath's replacement wing was soon involved with ball in hand after carving some space off a Cuthbert offload, but after his pass found Matt Carraro the Australian wing could only hack the ball back to the nearest defender.
More Ulster pressure yielded another penalty for Humphreys and the fly-half secured a one-point lead on the hour mark. The home side came brighter and after some heroic defence on their own line Bath were again forced to infringe by the sheer weight of numbers flooding the tight channels. Humphreys put over another three points to add some breathing space and while Bath immediately were stung into action the Ulster defence held firm for a number of punishing phases.
The visitors were granted one last chance with a late penalty but after their rolling maul was successfully disrupted a massive tackle from Andrew Trimble on Banahan resulted in a turnover and Pienaar smashing the ball into the stands to end proceedings.
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