Ulster were beaten by Clermont 19-15 at the Stade Marcel Michelin in the last pool game of the Heineken Cup and will now have to contest their quarter final away from home.
A single try scored by Clermont’s Ti’i Paulo was the decisive factor in a game where the rest of the points were scored by Morgan Parra for the home side and Ruan Pienaar for Ulster.
Clermont started the game as the better side and were nearly in behind the Ulster defence in the first minute but were only undone by a Aurelien Rougerie forward pass.
Sitiveni Sivivatu had a chance to break in the first five minutes but a good tackle stopped him advancing down the wing and moments later, Clermont were nearly in again until Morgan Parra dropped the ball in the build up.
Rougerie nearly countered again in the 6th minute but a massive tackle by Ulster talisman Stephen Ferris stopped the French winger in his tracks.
Clermont took the lead in the 15th minute after a double to Ulster when the tricky French scrum half got Dan Tuohy sin-binned after he ran into him from a penalty, from which he subsequently scored.
Ulster responded well and didn’t let their man-deficit show as Pienaar levelled the score with a penalty in the 18th minute, after Muller was tackled in the air from a line-out.
Parra put Clermont ahead again in the 22nd minute with a penalty kick but Ulster once again responded well and Gilroy was just metres from scoring a try, only for a last ditch tackle by a Clermont player, which knocked the winger off balance.
Ulster were extremely unlucky not to have a try to show for their efforts around the half hour mark when Trimble came close after his side stretched the Clermont defence, which ultimately stood up to the test.
Pienaar once again levelled the score in the 33rd minute with from a penalty but Ulster nearly conceded a try when Julien Malzieu broke away from the rest of the pack and had acres of space to run into, only for Stefan Terblanche to stretch a right hand out to trip the attacker before he could inflict further damage.
Pienaar missed a difficult kick before half time and just seconds later, Terblanche’s long range drop kick nearly put Ulster ahead but his impressive effort fell just short of the posts.
Ulster’s first half performance contained Clermont and, after a tricky few opening moments, reduced them to next to no chances; the second half would be a touch more difficult for the away side.
Pienaar put Ulster ahead early in the second half with a penalty but Clermont responded in kind just three minutes later through Parra.
The battle of the kicking scrum-halfs continued, and it was Pienaar who struck the next blow with from a penalty in the 57th minute.
Clermont put massive pressure on Ulster in the 60th minute and got the ball grounded behind the away sides’ try line but it didn’t count as Nathan Hinds was adjudged to have held back Ferris.
It was a big let off for Ulster but it didn’t stop Clermont who scored the only try of the game just three minutes later when their mounting pressure finally paid off and Ti’i Paulo went over the line; replays show Hinds blocked off an Ulster player to allow Paulo in but the referee didn’t spot the infringement.
Parra converted to put Clermont 16-12 up and it took Ulster the best part of 10 minutes to reduce the deficit to just one point, when Pienaar scored a penalty in the 71st minute.
Clermont reacted immediately once again, looking for a try but a foul by Pedrie Wannenburg allowed the home side to settle for three points, scored by the irrepressible Morgan Parra in the 74th minute.
Ulster tried to muster a chance for one last try but some poor unforced errors, including a lineout that wasn’t thrown straight by Rory Best, was enough for Clermont to end the game ahead, 19-15.
Ulster’s all round performance was impressive and one they can be proud of to build on future away performances in this competition.
They can count themselves slightly unlucky for the concession of the try after Hinds’ foul but ultimately Clermont showed a little more attacking and physical presence in the second half to edge the game; Ulster are at 18 to win the Heineken Cup, Click here for the latest odds on winning the Heineken cup from Betfair