Ferris fire lifts Ulster to victory
Stephen Ferris was at the heart of a stirring Ulster revival in Belfast on Saturday.
Coach Brian McLaughlin was cock-a-hoop with his side after they stormed back from self-destructing in the opening minutes to defeat Bath in an exciting clash under blue skies and on a perfect Ravenhill surface.
A Pedrie Wannenburg breakaway try and 17 points from the boot of Ian Humphreys did the business.
McLaughlin's charges showed great character, having handed Bath two soft tries in the first half before putting the boot down to the boards to nullify a team who, in securing a bonus point, left Pool 4 still wide open following Biarritz's shock defeat in Aironi.
"It was a smashing game of rugby with both teams giving their all. There will be a lot of sore bodies come Monday," said McLaughlin. "Obviously we are delighted to come away with a win after we had given them a 10-point start.
"While we made errors, it was probably because we were attempting to play too much good rugby and trying to force the game. But we came back and were right in contention at half-time and looking good.
"We stuttered a bit in the second half, but we did enough to get the points on the board."
Ulster could not have got off to a worse start when they were 10 points in arrears after only seven minutes.
Bath kicked off and immediately won the ball back to pressurise Ulster, who managed to thwart the early danger.
But a penalty in front of the sticks on 90 seconds, after Paddy Wallace instinctively handled the ball in an offside position, was nudged over by Olly Barkley, a late replacement for Shontayne Hape.
Then came a Humphreys blunder a couple of minutes later, when his looping pass out wide was cherry-picked by Bath full-back Jack Cuthbert on his '22'; Cuthbert raced all the way to the line despite the attentions of Simon Danielli.
Ulster could have thrown the towel in there and then, but with the magnificent Ferris in stunning form, they fought their way back to go in at the break just 15-13 behind.
Humphreys had knocked over a couple of penalties, but not before another error allowed Bath in for their second try. A high kick by their skipper Michael Claassens had full-back Adam D'Arcy in trouble and as the ball bounced clear, it was Lewis Moody, who snaffled possession and put away a tackle by Nigel Brady to touch down.
But a superb spell up to half-time gave Ulster confidence and pressure at a ruck on the halfway line, led to Wannenburg pilfering a pass from Simon Taylor to romp in.
Humphreys showed remarkable resilience and calmness to knock over the conversion and then smack a superb penalty over from 50 metres to give Ulster a further boost.
Ulster dominated the second half in large swathes and it was only desperate defensive by Bath that kept them at bay.
Humphreys banged over three more penalties with Barkley adding another to his tally.
It was in the final 10 minutes that Ulster's defensive cordon had to be at its best.
Bath almost snatched victory at the death with big Matt Banahan storming in from close-range, but a magnificent, shuddering tackle by Andrew Trimble produced a turn-over.
Game over, and McLaughlin was then ready to look ahead to the return clash.
"Obviously it is only one game. The match at Ravenhill is now put to bed and we have to start all over again in Bath next Saturday, and it will not be easy by any means," he said.
"You saw how keen they were on Saturday and they will be buoyed by their performance in pushing us right to the limit.
"Barring a tremendous tackle by Andrew Trimble in the last seconds it could have been very different. So it will be the same again next week in Bath."
Ulster -- A D'Arcy; A Trimble, N Spence, P Wallace, S Danielli; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; T Court, N Brady, B Botha; J Muller (capt), D Tuohy; S Ferris, C Henry (W Faloon 57), P Wannenburg.
Bath -- J Cuthbert; M Carraro, M Banahan, O Berkley, T Biggs (N Abendanon 16); S Vesty, M Claassens (capt) (M McMillan 75); D Flatman (D Barnes 70), L Mears (P Dixon 64), D Wilson (D Bell 60); S Hooper, D Grewcock (I Fernandez-Lobbe 60); A Beattie (B Skirving 60) L Moody, S Taylor.
Ref -- J Garces (France).