Ulster claimed a priceless Heineken Cup victory over Pool rivals Stade FranÃ§ais as they came good 23-13 at Ravenhill.
Ulster claimed a priceless Heineken Cup win over rivals Stade FranÃ§ais on Saturday as they came good to seal a deserved 23-13 triumph in Belfast.
The hot-and-cold Ravenhill province, who were without the experience of BJ Botha and Paddy Wallace, were in part boosted by the return from injury of Stephen Ferris who got the better of James Haskell. The strong Lions flank was given a big helping hand by an in-form Chris Henry.
Stade meanwhile seem to be taking a little bit of extra time getting accustomed to life without their influential number eight Sergio Parisse, whose absent leadership and carrying ability proved one major factor in the downfall of the off-colour pinks.
Very little enterprise was shown by the visitors and a dramatic improvement is needed if they are to exact revenge in Brussels next weekend.
For Ulster though it was a case of mission accomplished and they will head to Belgium full of confidence after winning the back-line and forward battle against such household names as Benjamin Kayser, Pascal Pape, Julien Dupuy, Mathieu Bastareaud and stand-in skipper Rodrigo Roncero.
Brian McLaughlin's unpredictable side came out with the expected amount of gusto and when Lionel Beauxis missed a penalty attempt on seven minutes, they saw their opening and pounced. On they marched down into Stade territory before hands from Pape allowed Humphreys a chance to put his side in front. The former Tiger struck the post but got an immediate opportunity to make amends after the French offended at scrum-time.
With the momentum now firmly with Ulster, the Top 14 giants were forced to revert to type as a distinctly quiet fly-half Beauxis sat back for a drop-goal. He missed. The pink feathers were ruffled and following an away three-point leveler, the story just got worse for Stade.
An authoritative Humphreys was again involved by starting a free-flowing move down the left and it was his one-two with Simon Danielli that set up Nigel Brady for the game's first try that the ten converted. A half-time score of 13-3 was a fair reflection on proceedings.
Long looks in the mirror had to be the message Jaques Delmas gave to his star-studded dressing room but the story continued in the same manner for Stade, who continued to sulk and play second-fiddle in the hunger stakes.
Ulster continued to show their intentions right from the turnaround when a Humphreys-inspired break saw Darren Cave chip over the line only for Messina to kick the ball dead.
But the pressure from both Ulster's XV and the home support remained on the Parisians as Bastareaud was penalised by Dave Pearson for taking the fly-half out.
Dupuy was then binned on 45 minutes and a Humphreys penalty stretched Ulster's lead to 16-6. Then with Beauxis having just been substituted for Noel Oelschig, the hosts spun the ball right and thanks to a great burst from Ferris they crossed through Danielli on the right.
Ulster were now 23-6 to the good following the touch-line conversion before Dupuy returned to the action. And with Stade emptying their bench in search of a bonus point, they got their prize when replacement winger Julien Arias got over with seven minutes remaining.
But Oelschig's penalty two minutes before the final whistle failed to get between the posts and Ulster held on for another notable success that has revived this Pool.
Tries: Brady, Danielli
Con: Humphreys 2
Pen: Humphreys 3
For Stade FranÃ§ais:
Pen: Beauxis 2
Ulster: 15 Clinton Schifcofske, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Simon Danelli, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Chris Henry (capt), 7 David Pollock, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Ed O'Donoghue, 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Nigel Brady, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Andy Kyriacou, 17 Bryan Young, 18 Justin Fitzpatrick, 19 Ryan Caldwell, 20 Willie Faloon, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Niall O'Connor, 23 Jamie Smith.
Stade FranÃ§ais: 15 Hugo Southwell, 14 Ollie Phillips, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Messina, 11 Mark Gasnier, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Pascal Pape, 7 Anthony Burban, 6 James Haskell, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Arnaud Marchois, 3 Sylvain Marconnet, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Rodrigo Roncero (capt).
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 David Attoub, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Pierre Rabadan, 20 Mauro Bergamasco, 21 Noel Oelschig, 22 Guillaume Bousses, 23 Julien Arias.
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant referees: David Rose (England), Alan Biggs (England)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)
Assessor: Douglas Kerr (Scotland)
By Adam Kyriacou