McLaughlin's men make most of Biarritz upset
Ulster benefited on the double yesterday thanks to their own industry and a stunning result from Italy which opens up Pool 4 of the Heineken Cup.
They had to hang on to beat Bath 22-18 at Ravenhill in front of a crowd of 8,247 and go to the Rec on Saturday leading the tie 4-1 on match points.
The result from Aironi, however, where they turned over last year's runner-up Biarritz, was probably the biggest upset in the history of the competition.
It leaves Ulster just two points behind Biarritz, who still top the pool, and their return leg with the Basques is in Ravenhill in January. They complete their programme with an away tie in Aironi.
"It was a great result for everyone and it opens the group right up," Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin said afterwards. "But we have to go to Bath now and do a job. The win there last season was our first ever on English soil and it was smashing to get it. It gave us confidence, but it's in the past."
His opposite number Steve Meehan was also relieved at the news from Italy. "It's anyone's ball game now," he said. "We now have to work on two or three key areas during the week before we host Ulster and hopefully get the result."
Top of Bath's list will be the penalty count where they suffered at the hands of French referee Jerome Garces by a ratio of 4:1, allowing Ian Humphreys see Ulster home with five penalties from six attempts. The scrums were a disaster area for both sides, albeit with Ulster getting more favourable calls.
In the end, Ulster were hanging on as Bath kept the ball in hand and, given the greater strength of the Ulster pack, will surely repeat as much on Saturday.
"In the last five minutes they really stretched us and threw the ball around -- there were a lot of tired bodies out there," Ulster captain Johann Muller said.
"So they'll probably try to do that from the word go next week. But when you play more rugby there is the potential for making mistakes."
And it was a couple of Ulster mistakes that gifted Bath two tries in the first half which put them 15-3 ahead before Ulster rallied to reel them in.
Ireland's other three provinces are all in action today with Munster, leading Pool 3, playing the Ospreys in Thomond Park, while Leinster, currently on top of Pool 2, travel to Clermont Auvergne. Connacht go to Harlequins in the Amlin Challenge Cup.