12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Week 22: Friday, April 15 Ulster 16 Llanelli Scarlets 3, Ravenhill Scorers: Ulster: Try: Paul Steinmetz; Con: Steinmetz; Pens: Steinmetz 3 Scarlets: Pen: Gareth Bowen
Once-capped All-Black Steinmetz kicked three first-half penalties and added a 67th-minute barge over try in the second half as Mark McCall's side secured eighth place in the league standings.
As well as Ward, long-serving lock Gary Longwell and scrum-half Neil Doak - who are both retiring at the end of the season - were triumphant at the finish on a night when neither side hit the heights.
The result - Ulster's sixth straight win at their Belfast home - also sees them defending their Celtic Cup title with a quarter-final draw away to the Ospreys, in two weeks' time.
While still in contention at 9-3 down at the break, the Scarlets - gunning for a home Cup draw in fourth place - lost their way as the game progressed, with fly-half Gareth Bowen's 7th-minute penalty was to prove their only score of the night.
Ward's New Zealand-born compatriot Steinmetz drilled Ulster in front with a second-minute penalty before Bowen levelled it, punishing the Ulster pack for an offside.
The game could have swung in the visitors' favour then as centre Steve Thomas went under the Ulster posts, but Scottish referee Andy Ireland ruled the 19th-minute effort out for a knock-on.
From then on, Ulster began to click as they capitalised on the Welsh side's errors.
Steinmetz made it 6-3 before Ireland flanker Simon Easterby was pinged for needlessly throwing the ball at Longwell, and punished by Steinmetz as he landed the 30-metre kick for a six-point half-time lead.
Down to 14-men on 46 minutes due to prop John Davies' sin-binning for a late challenge, the Scarlets' night of woe continued when Aled Thomas struck an Ulster upright with his penalty.
Thomas - taking over kicking duties from the injured Bowen - then missed an easier second shot, which could have made Ulster stutter with a deal of unease to the finish.
Steinmetz effectively sealed the deal with 13 minutes remaining as his midfield break -set up by replacement Doak and fly-half Paddy Wallace - saw the Scarlets caught unawares, and the 28-year-old nipped in for his fourth try of the league run.
He added the conversion for good measure, and although missing two further penalties, Steinmetz was a deserving winner of the man-of-the-match gong on a night when both sides failed to fire.
The 34-year-old Ward said afterwards: "It's important that we have qualified to defend the Celtic Cup trophy. It would have been disappointing not to and if we show the same commitment and performance next week it will not matter who we play."
(15) Bryn Cunningham (14) Tommy Bowe (13) Kevin Maggs (12) Paul Steinmetz (11) Scott Young (10) Paddy Wallace (9) Kieran Campbell (1) Simon Best (2) Paul Shields (3) Rod Moore (4) Gary Longwell (5) Matt McCullough (6) Andy Ward (Capt) (7) Gavin Pfister (8) Roger Wilson
Replacements used: Andrew Maxwell for Young (40 mins), Neil Doak for Campbell (44), Campbell Feather for Pfister (65), Rowan Frost for Longwell (78), Adam Larkin for Wallace (82). Not used: Rory Best, Ronan McCormack.
Scarlets: Barry Davies; Garan Evans, Tal Selley, Steve Thomas, Lee Byrne; Gareth Bowen, Mike Phillips; Phil John, Matthew Rees, John Davies, Vernon Cooper, Adam Jones, Simon Easterby (Capt), Andy Powell, Jonathan Mills.
Replacements used: Aled Thomas for Bowen (53 mins), Dwayne Peel for Phillips (58), Chris Wyatt for Powell (70). Not used: Ricky Davies, Aled Gravelle, Ian Boobyer, Ifan Evans.
Sin-bin: John Davies (Scarlets) (46 mins, second half) HT: Ulster 9 Scarlets 3; Attendance: 7,948 Referee: Andrew Ireland (Scotland)