James Davies’ interception try sealed a 22-13 win for the Scarlets that ended Ulster’s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.
Earlier, a sublime kicking performance from Rhys Priestland helped the Scarlets atone for last week’s loss against the same opposition.
Fly-half Priestland landed five penalties in a virtuoso display with the boot that was complemented by Davies’ late intercept try.
The Scarlets led at half-time, and were the superior side for most of this game, and will be delighted with a victory that keeps them in contention in Pool Three.
Ulster mounted a comeback through a Darren Cave try and the boot of Ruan Pienaar, but couldn’t close the gap, and will be despondent at a loss that almost certainly sends them out of the competition.
The game got off to a frenetic start, with both sides struggling to retain possession in difficult conditions. But it was the Scarlets that adapted better with their big ball carriers such as Davies testing the visitors’ defence.
The men in white absorbed the pressure quite well, though, and came back strongly with their efficient rolling maul being utilised as a potent weapon. It was nip and tuck, therefore in the opening ten minutes, but the Scarlets were edging it territorially through the kicking of Priestland and Liam Williams.
And it was the Welsh region that secured the opening points of the contest when Priestland landed an 11 minute penalty when Ulster lock Franco van der Merwe was penalised for not releasing.
Thus the Scarlets were 3-0 to the good, and deservedly so. And Priestland doubled the advantage on 19 minutes when he coolly angled over another penalty to make it 6-0 to the Welshmen.
For their part, Ulster really struggled to get in the game and offered very little offensively, save for speculative kicks from Humphreys. Allied to that, the visitors were under acute pressure at the breakdown, with Scarlets’ openside Davies in fine form.
And when Priestland made it 9-0 on 28 minutes, it seemed the Irishmen had a substantial amount of work to do to regain a foothold in the game.
Ulster’s cause wasn’t helped by their indiscipline, as they conceded a succession of needless penalties.
And when Priestland landed a superb long-distance penalty on 33 minutes to make it 12-0, Ulster were in all sorts of trouble.
The Scarlets, for their part, had been well worth their advantage, mixing it up well in the conditions; with superb short range play being complemented by an effective wide game.
Back row Aaron Shingler was particularly conspicuous, and the big Scarlets’ blindside consistently found holes in Ulster’s defensive line. By the half time interval, the Welshmen were undoubtedly the better side, and frankly were unlucky not to have been further ahead.
Priestland had a wonderful opportunity to increase the advantage with a penalty right on the half time whistle, but his effort fell just short.
The second half began with the Scarlets very much in the ascendancy, and Ulster were playing catch up.
But the visitors got a lifeline on 42 minutes when a rehearsed move in the Scarlets’ 22 saw Luke Marshall receive an inside ball from his midfield partner, and Marshall returned the favour to put Irish international Cave under the posts.
The move was well-executed, and betrayed some of the incision that the Ravenhill men had been missing in the first half.
Humphreys converted to make it 12-7 to the Scarlets. Frustratingly for Ulster, they conceded yet another penalty two minutes later when prop Declan Fitzpatrick was pinged for not binding properly.
Fortuitously for them, though, Priestland missed the resultant kick to leave it a five point ball game.
The visitors had noticeably upped the tempo from the first period, and were now asking questions of the Scarlets’ defence. Fly-half Humphreys had a chance to reduce the deficit shortly after, but was off target with the kick.
The first 15 minutes of the second half was a relatively purple patch for Ulster, and the Irish outfit will have been frustrated not to have contributed more than Cave’s solitary try.
Their frustration was compounded when Priestland extended the Scarlets’ lead on 60 minutes when his long range effort careered in off the uprights.
But the visitors refused to give up the fight, and they seemed to have stormed back into the game on 68 minutes when Tommy Bowe cut a good angle from a Pienaar pass, and seemed to have put Cave away again, but the Scarlets illegally obstructed the pass.
Pienaar landed the ensuing penalty to cut the lead to 15-10. And the South African talisman repeated the trick three minutes later when he landed a monster penalty from 50 metres to narrow the gap to 15-13.
Amazingly for a game that the Scarlets had dominated for long periods, Ulster had a chance to assume the lead on 75 minutes when the Scarlets collapsed a maul in their 22.
Agonisingly for the visitors, Pienaar’s kick drifted wide of the posts, however. And the Irish side’s goose was finally cooked on 78 minutes when Davies intercepted a ball from an Ulster scrum to gallop over the line to score.
Priestland converted to seal a thoroughly deserved win that keeps the Scarlets’ slim hopes of qualification alive.
By Rory McGimpsey
Try: J Davies
Pens: Priestland 5
Pens: Pienaar 2
Yellow Card: Fitzpatrick
Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Kristian Phillips, 13 Regan King, 12 Scott Williams (c), 11 Michael Tagicakibau, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Rob McCusker 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Johan Snyman, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 George Earle, 20 Rory Pitman, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Hadleigh Parkes.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Clive Ross, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Franco Van Der Merwe, 4 Dan Tuohy, 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Michael Heaney, 23 Michael Allen.
Date: Sunday, 13 December
Venue: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant referees: Tom Foley (England), Roy Maybank (England)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)