Ulster claimed a crucial Heineken Cup win away from home on Saturday as they beat Montpellier 25-8 at Stade Yves-du-Manoir.
A try from Andrew Trimble, and kicks from Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson, saw a disciplined Ulster storm the Stade Yves-du-Manoir.
Montpellier replied with a try from Yoan Audrin, but were ultimately unable to turn pressure into points. The game ebbed and flowed, but Ulster's physicality and tactical nous told in the end.
The game got off to a physical opening, with the hosts subjecting the Irish visitors to early pressure. Jonathan Pélissié had a chance to open the scoring on two minutes, but he was off-target with his kick. The in-form scrum half made no mistake with an easier attempt two minutes later, to make it 3-0 to the Top 14 side.
Montpellier certainly had the superior opening with their formidable scrum giving them a decided set-piece advantage as expected.
But Ulster managed to soak up the pressure, and struck back superbly on 10 minutes when Darren Cave put Andrew Trimble away in the corner. Jackson converted to make it 7-3.
Pienaar had a chance to extend Ulster's lead five minutes later, but his kick fell just short. It appeared as if the visitors had weathered the early storm, and were beginning to put together some phases of their own. Jackson had another chance to extend the lead on 20 minutes, but was off-target with the attempt.
Ulster were having the better of this phase of the game, but a combination of the wind and poor execution left them profligate in front of goal. Thus Pienaar missed another penalty attempt on 27 minutes.
Montpellier sought to use the full width of the pitch and stretch 2012's beaten finalists, with the vastly experienced François Trinh-Duc pulling the strings.
But Ulster's vaunted defensive system largely kept the hosts at bay, enabling the Irishmen to enjoy their fair share of territory and possession. By half time, Ulster were more than happy with their efforts, but would have been disappointed not to be more clinical.
The scene was set for an explosive second half, therefore. The French club were determined to apply pressure to the visitors, but Ulster were now able to secure parity at scrum time.
The Irish club had another chance on 48 minutes, but this time Pienaar was able to execute successfully to make it 3-10.
But Montpellier were avidly determined to strike back, and a ferocious scrum on 50 minutes saw winger Audrin squeeze over despite frantic Ulster defence. The TMO adjudged the try to be good, but Pélissié missed the conversion.
The hosts were now subjecting their Irish visitors to fierce pressure. Pienaar eased the stress on his side when he augmented their lead on 52 minutes to make it 8-13.
And things got even better for the Ravenhill side on 58 minutes when talisman Pienaar slotted another kick to make earn his side an 8-point advantage. Pienaar further enhanced the cheer of the away contingent on 70 minutes, when he curled over another penalty to make it 8-19 to the men from the north of Ireland.
The response of the French hosts was relentlessly physical, and wave after wave laid siege to the Ulster line. But Pienaar put the result beyond doubt, when he struck another blow on 72 minutes to give his a side a 14-point lead.
The French side desperately tried to regain the momentum, but were continually thwarted by the Ulster rearguard. And Jackson sealed a fantastic win on 79 minutes with another well-struck kick.
Montpellier will be disappointed with this result, but this superb performance keeps Ulster's European campaign on track.
Pens: Pienaar 5, Jackson
Montpellier: 15 Anthony Floch, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Anthony Tuitavaké, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Yoan Audrin, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Jonathan Pélissié, 8 Kélian Galletier, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo (c), 5 Thibaut Privat, 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Maximiliano Bustos, 2 Mickaël Ivaldi, 1 Yvan Watremez.
Replacements: 16 Thomas Bianchin, 17 Misha Nariashvili, 18 Nicolas Mas, 19 Fred Quercy, 20 Robins Tchalé-Watchou, 21 Benoit Paillaugue, 22 Thomas Combezou, 23 Benoit Sicart.
Ulster:15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 John Afoa, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Iain Henderson, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Stuart Olding, 23 Michael Allen
Venue: Stade Yves-du-Manoir, Montpellier
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
By Rory McGimpsey