McLaughlin keeping feet on ground
Ulster will meet Biarritz in a winner-takes-all Ravenhill showdown following another epic Heineken Cup victory at Bath on Saturday, but coach Brian McLaughlin warned his side: "We've done nothing yet."
The northerners repeated last season's 'double' over their English opponents with tries in each half from Adam D'Arcy and Nevin Spence, and a superb kicking display by out-half Ian Humphreys, who booted 16 points.
While Bath resign themselves to non-qualification for the second season in a row, the Ulstermen can now look forward to a seismic encounter with Pool 4 leaders Biarritz on January 15.
The win puts Ulster three points behind the French side, but McLaughlin has told his team they must return attention to their Magners League aspirations, with a busy festive period on the horizon.
"We've got two big games coming up in the Magners -- at home to Leinster on the 27th and Munster in Limerick on New Year's Day," he said. "The big games just keep coming."
And, despite the win, McLaughlin was not overly impressed by his side's performance. "We are just very happy to have a win," he said. "We knew we had a tough job.
"In the first few minutes we looked a bit ropey but we clawed our way back to 14-13. Actually, I didn't think we played that well. Bath put us under ferocious pressure at times. We upped the intensity, though, and played the percentages a wee bit more.
"We knuckled down and knew what we had to do. If we had control we had a chance. I said to the players afterwards: 'We've done nothing yet'. We've just got to keep winning."
Ulster had been caught cold in the first minute when Jack Cuthbert hit up through the middle and Lee Mears was on hand to send Matt Carraro in at the corner for an unconverted try.
Olly Barkley soon added a penalty after Andrew Trimble was caught offside, but Ulster hit back with a 10th-minute D'Arcy try, after the visitors tapped and a ran a free-kick and Robbie Diack provided his full-back with the pass.
Humphreys converted but then needed treatment after a late hit by Butch James which escaped the officials' attention. Ulster prop BJ Botha was not so fortunate after a high tackle on Michael Claassens, though, and Barkley's second penalty made it 11-7.
Humphreys and Barkley swapped further penalties but the Ulster fly-half seemed to be struggling with an injury and his tactical kicking was too often handing the initiative back to Bath.
James' notoriously short fuse lasted just four minutes into the second half when he was sin-binned after a scuffle with Dan Tuohy. With James off the field, Ulster seized their chance to string together phase after phase and Paddy Wallace eventually put centre partner Spence in at the corner.
Humphreys converted magnificently and then added two penalties penalty for good measure to put his team 23-14 ahead.
Two penalties in quick succession saw Spence sent to the sin bin and Barkley pulled back three points from under the posts.
Suddenly Bath burst into life, attacking from their own 22 through Nick Abendanon and finishing off in spectacular fashion through Banahan in the opposite corner.
Barkley failed to convert but Humphreys, immediately handed a penalty chance from 40 metres, stretched the Ulster lead to a decisive four points.
Bath -- Cuthbert (Abendanon 57); Carraro, Barkley, Hape, Banahan; James, Claassens; Flatman (Barnes 51), Mears, Wilson; Hooper, Grewcock (Fernandez-Lobbe 57); Beattie (Skirving 57), Moody, Taylor.
Ulster -- D'Arcy; Trimble, Spence, Wallace, Danielli; Humphreys, Pienaar; Court (McAllister 70), Brady, Botha; Muller, Tuohy (Barker 57); Wannenburg, Faloon, Diack (Henry 57).
Ref -- P Gauzere (France)