Three penalties from Ruan Pienaar were enough to give Ulster a 9-8 victory over Castres at the Stade Pierre-Antoine that gives Marc Anscombe’s men a good chance of taking their quarter final opponents to Ravenhill in April.
They still need other results to go their way but that can wait, as though the bonus point that would have guaranteed the home tie was never in the picture, the Ulstermen’s first victory on French soil will be celebrated for its grit.
A tense and at times edgy encounter sparked for the first and only time in the ninth minute when a behind the back pass from the Scot Max Evans put Remi Lamerat straight though to touchdown after a lung-busting run from the half-way line.
Springbok Pieenar, who was deputising at fly-half due to Paddy Jackson’s injry, and his compatriot kicked penalties to make it 8-6 at half time.
The second half proved to be of even less trouble to the scoreboard operator as Pieenar kicked the winning penalty just after the hour-mark.
Last season’s finalists put in a good show of strength, dominating in the scrum and made even former Ulster powerhouse Pedrie Wannenburg looked relatively weak up against his old team.
Paddy Jackson’s introduction just before the decisive penalty proved to be pivotal as the 21 year old provided the spark that had been lacking in Ulster’s play and with their noses in front they handily saw the game out.