Ulster pay for previous slip-ups
Despite a historic victory over Bath at the Recreation Grounds, Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin was ruing missing out on a Heineken Cup quarter-final spot for the 11th successive season, which he put down to two previous games in their Pool 4 campaign.
Despite also losing out to Stade Francais' losing bonus point at Murrayfield and then Gloucester claiming the final place in the Challenge Cup, McLaughlin says that their failure to beat Edinburgh and then not hold on to a losing bonus point in Paris, was their downfall.
He was, though, very enthusiastic and positive about the team's performance throughout the campaign. "I'm very proud of the players. We went to Bath looking for a win, and we got it. It was Ulster's first win on English soil and that was one of our goals this season," he said.
"But overall we have progressed this season. We have made giant strides and it augurs well for next season with a fairly young team, most of whom are local talent.
"I was a little disappointed that we didn't get more out of the Bath game. I thought our first-up defence, which has been excellent this season, was not as effective as it should have been.
"However, our scrambling was magnificent. They put us under a great deal pressure, but we manage to hold our line," added McLaughlin.
The Ulster coach made sure that Ulster started the second half with a bang against a 14-man Bath after Danny Grewcock was red-carded for stamping on Stephen Ferris in the 33rd minute.
"We came out at half-time knowing that if we could turn the screw, with Bath down to 14 men, we had a good chance.
"Bath came back really well and put our defence under ferocious pressure and we couldn't seem to get our hands on the ball.
"But it wasn't a case of us taking the foot of the pedal. We still had to play rugby against a passionate team, and they played extremely well. In the end I thought we were unlucky not to claim a fourth try, a few wrong options took care of that.
"Nevertheless, everybody stood up to be counted, and while Stephen Ferris got the man-of-the-match, I thought lock Dan Tuohy had a magnificent game.
"He was by far the best forward on the pitch.
"Young David Pollock also had an exceptional game. He slowed their game down, and he is covered in bruises from head to toe.
"But the result means there's a monkey off our back; we are reflecting on the fact that we have won our first game in England at the 12th time of trying. It's a great win from our point of view."
Ulster led 9-7 at the break with Niall O'Connor's three penalties overhauling Matt Banahan's touchdown and a conversion by Nicky Little, who scored Bath's only second-half effort with a penalty, despite the fact the home side were in command of large chunks of possession.
Andrew Trimble must have put his name very much into the Ireland mix after his five-star showing on the right-wing, particularly considering the way he took his 43rd-minute try with a 60-metre rumble to the line. Darren Cave also picked up a try shortly afterwards following clever work by Simon Danielli down the left wing.
That left Ulster 21-7 up and motoring only for Bath to flick a switch and dominate for most of the second half.
Ulster, however, always looked dangerous with ball in hand with Danielli undoing a great afternoon's work by failing to give full-back Jamie Smith a scoring pass.
Their third try came near the end when good forward driving allowed Paddy Wallace to dance his way through under the posts.
Unfortunately, it was too little too late, but as a bruised and battered Ferris said after the game, it was a job well done.
"Our objective all week was to get that win. It's a pity that we didn't pick up that fourth try near the end, but the boys were really knackered with their effort," said Ferris, who seems to court the headlines with his action-man performances week-in, week-out.
"We talked about that at half-time. We knew we had the chance to take advantage of it," said McLaughlin. "Both the wingers were tremendous on Saturday, and Trimble's gas early in the second half started it all off."
"He's been dong a lot of speed work and he has worked hard. We always knew he had the wheels and he certainly showed it on Saturday."
"We've done pretty well this season and we are going well in the Magners League, but come next year with this group of players we may finally make those knockout stages again."
Bath -- J Maddock (J Cuthbert 74); M Stephenson, M Carraro, S Hape, M Banahan; N Little (R Davis 76), M Claassens (S Bemand 76); D Flatman (D Barnes 64), L Mears (P Dixon 64), D Wilson (A Jarvis 74), D Grewcock, S Hooper, A Beattie (P Short 50), J Salvi, L Watson (J Fa'amatuainu 69).
Ulster -- J Smith; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, S Danielli; N O'Connor, I Boss (C Willis 74); T Court (B Young 74), N Brady (A Kyriacou 64), BJ Botha (D Fitzpatrick 64), D Tuohy, E O'Donoghue (R Caldwell 66), S Ferris (TJ Anderson 74), D Pollock, C Henry.
Ref -- J Garces (France).