...Five minutes in and hooker Rory Best gets Ulster off to a great start with the opening try, but unfortunately, things went downhill from then on for Mark McCall's side...
Ulster's proud record of not having lost a Heineken Cup match at Ravenhill since January 2001 fell on Friday night as a dynamic Biarritz side claimed a 24-8 win to strengthen their grip on Pool Four.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL FOUR: Friday, January 13
ULSTER 8 BIARRITZ 24, Ravenhill (Att: 12,300)
Scorers: Ulster: Try: Rory Best; Pen: David Humphreys
Biarritz: Tries: Sereli Bobo, Petru Balan; Con: Dimitri Yachvili; Pens: Yachvili 3; Drop: Julien Peyrelongue
Ulster's feint hopes of making the last-eight of European rugby's premier competition for the first time since they won the trophy in 1999 were dashed as the French visitors proved too good.
There was one heartening piece of news for Mark McCall's men - inspirational fly half David Humphreys, when striking over his only penalty success of the night, became only the fifth player to score 500 points or more in the Heineken Cup.
The 34-year-old's tally currently stands at 501 with Neil Jenkins, Stephen Jones, Diego Dominguez and his long-time rival for the Ireland number 10 jersey, Ronan O'Gara, ahead of him. Humphreys received an ERC Elite Award (a Crystal Boot) from ERC Chief Executive Derek McGrath after the game in Belfast.
Ulster's record of 14 Heineken Cup games unbeaten at Ravenhill, since Saracens won nearly five years ago, looked strong from the kick-off. McCall's charges wasted little time in going in front.
Ireland hooker Rory Best plunged over for a fifth-minute try - his second touch down of the current European campaign - from a lineout catch and drive. Flanker Neil Best was the catalyst for the right wing attack. He carried the ball a full 50 metres, and a neat Matt McCullough lineout take and shunt saw Rory Best cross the whitewash.
Humphreys missed the extras and the visitors gradually played their way back into it. A first penalty from Dimitri Yachvili and an opportunist try from Fijian flyer Sereli Bobo pushed Biarritz ahead - they led 8-5 at the interval. But they were down to 14 men just on 37 minutes when flanker Thierry Dusautoir was sent to the sin-bin for not rolling away in the tackle after Andrew Trimble had punched a whole in the visitors' defence.
A second try would not come for Ulster on the restart and they had to settle for a levelling penalty. Could Ulster serve up Biarritz's second defeat of Pool Four?
The answer was not - the French championship leaders simply got stronger and stronger in the closing quarter, scoring 16 points without reply. First, Romanian prop Petru Balan went over for a second Biarritz try after French international flanker Imanol Harinordoquy had stolen an Ulster lineout deep in his own half.
Yachvili added the conversion, kicked two more penalties and then saw his half-back partner Julien Peyrelongue drive the final nail into Ulster's coffin with a 35-metre drop goal. Both sides went down to 14 men in the sixth minute of injury-time as locks Justin Harrison and Jerome Thion were both sent to the sin-bin.
Humphrey, meanwhile, was forced off with the final quarter remaining due to a knee injury and there are some doubts about his participation in next Saturday's trip to Treviso's Stadio Comunale di Monigio.
TIMELINE: 5 minutes - Ulster try: Rory Best - 5-0; conversion: missed - 5-0; 11 mins - Biarritz penalty: Dimitri Yachvili - 5-3; 29 mins - Biarritz try: Sereli Bobo - 5-8; conversion: missed - 5-8; 37 mins - Biarritz yellow card: Thierry Dusautoir; Half-time - Ulster 5 Biarritz 8; 51 mins - Ulster penalty: David Humphreys - 8-8; 62 mins - Biarritz try: Petru Balan - 8-13; conversion: Dimitri Yachvili - 8-15; 71 mins - Biarritz penalty: Dimitri Yachvili - 8-18; 79 mins - Biarritz penalty: Dimitri Yachvili - 8-21; 80+1 mins - Biarritz drop goal: Julien Peyrelongue - 8-24; 80+6 mins - Ulster yellow card: Justin Harrison; Biarritz yellow card: Jerome Thion; Full-time - Ulster 8 Biarritz 24
ULSTER: Bryn Cunningham; Tommy Bowe, Kevin Maggs, Paul Steinmetz, Andrew Trimble; David Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Bryan Young, Rory Best, Simon Best (capt), Justin Harrison, Matt McCullough, Neil Best, Stephen Ferris, Rogert Wilson.
Replacements used: Justin Fitzpatrick for Young (57 mins), Adam Larkin for Humphreys (61), Neil McMillan for Ferris (67), Rowan Frost for McCullough (70), James Topping for Maggs (77); Not used: Nigel Brady, Kieran Campbell.
BIARRITZ: Nicolas Brusque; Jean-Baptiste Gobelet, Phillippe Bidabe, Federico Martin Aramaburu, Sereli Bobo; Julien Peyrelongue, Dimitri Yachvili; Petru Balan, Benoit August, Benoit Lacouls, Jerome Thion, David Couzinet, Thierry Dusautoir, Imanol Harinordoquy, Thomas Lievremont (capt).
Replacements used: Ockert Booyse for David Couzinet (72) mins), Serge Betsen for Harinodoquy (78), Denis Lison for Bidabe, Benjamin Dambielle for Bobo, Kas Lealamanu'a for Balan (all 80+2); Not used: Oliver Nauroy, Julien Dupuy.
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)