Humphreys steers Ulster past Bath
December 18, 2010
Ulster's Robbie Diack takes the ball under pressure from Lewis Moody
© Getty Images
Ulster edged nearer this season's Heineken Cup quarter-finals with a 26-22 victory over Bath at The Rec.
Tries from fullback Adam D'Arcy and centre Nevin Spence and a man of the match performance from fly-half Ian Humphreys - who kicked four penalties and both conversions - saw the Irish side keep pace with Pool 4 leaders Biarritz and all but end Bath's euro hopes. A try from centre Matt Carraro had helped give the hosts a narrow lead at the break and another from wing Matt Banahan offered hope of a late turnaround but they were left to rue some costly missed kicks at goal from centre Olly Barkley.
Bath made a flying start to the game and caught Ulster cold within moments of the kick off. With the visitors on the back foot in their own 22, Bath scrum-half Michael Claassens found hooker Lee Mears down the short side and his direct line and superb pass to Carraro saw the winger coast in at the corner for the opening try.
Barkley was unable to add the extras but further pressure soon led to another opening with the bounce of the ball going against Claassens after he had charged down a clearance from Ulster fly-half Ian Humphreys. But they kept the scoreboard ticking over with a penalty from Barkley a couple of minutes later.
Granted their first significant amount of possession, Ulster conjured an impressive riposte. Bath were stretched out wide before Humphreys found No.8 Robbie Diack on a great line and the South African powered towards the line before off loading to D'Arcy for a simple score that was converted by his No.10.
A high tackle on Claassens from Ulster loose-head Tom Court enabled Barkley to give his side a little more breathing space from the kicking tee but his latest score was cancelled out by Humphreys soon after Bath were found guilty of obstruction following the re-start. Bath raised the tempo midway through the half with a clever kick from fly-half Butch James, making his first appearance of the season, allowing Banahan to drive D'Arcy back over his own goal line but play was called back for an earlier penalty against Ulster lock Dan Tuohy that Barkley landed with ease.
Ulster offered their fair share of attacking flair as the half drew to a close with wing Simon Danielli making big gains having wriggled free in midfield but some tenacious defending from the hosts slammed the door shut. A great break from scrum-half Ruan Pienaar then had Bath scrambling back and the strength of wing Andrew Trimble saw his side secure a penalty just before the break that Humphreys slotted to bring his side to within a point as the sides headed to the tunnel.
The Bath forwards led the home side's charge after the break but the latest in a series of scuffles saw them reduced to 14-men with James the player sent to the sin-bin for his decision to wade in on Tuohy.
Ulster looked to capitalise but were frustrated for long periods by Bath and their own shortcomings in attack. But their patience was finally rewarded at the end of an epic 20-phase assault on Bath's line with Paddy Wallace putting centre partner Spence over in the corner. Humphreys' touchline conversion cemented Ulster's lead as James returned to the fray but the Springboks international could do little about his opposite number's next effort - a long range penalty from just inside his own half that sailed over and gave his side a nine-point lead.
Barkley looked to claw three points back for the hosts as the game entered the final quarter but his kick from distance never looked like breathing life into Bath's challenge. But the Bath centre had more luck with a touch-finder moments later that took his side deep into the Ulster 22 for an attacking lineout.
Another penalty went Bath's way as tempers flared again and from the next lineout the forwards closed in on the line before Spence became the latest to see yellow for his cynical attempts to thwart the attack although replays suggested the guilty party was flanker Willie Faloon. Barkley slotted the simple penalty but they were soon celebrating again.
A strong run from replacement Nick Abendanon sparked the attack from deep and he sent Wallace flying with a vicious hand-off before finding support inside. The ball found its way to Mears and then No.8 Simon Taylor who fed a charging Banahan and the England international powered over in the corner for an excellent team try. Barkley's conversion could have given Bath the lead but he missed and Humphreys added to his personal tally soon after with another superb kick from distance.
A sensational break from Pienaar then had Bath scrambling with the Springbok collecting his own clever chip over Banahan before being hauled down just short of the line. His forwards then looked to muscle their way over whilst running the clock down but Bath earned themselves a penalty before Barkley found a good touch for one last throw of the dice. But they failed to find an opening and fittingly Humphreys closed out the game to keep his side on course for the last eight.
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