A measured display gave Brian McLaughlin’s Ulster side an ideal start to their Heineken Cup campaign, with influential out-half Ian Humphreys steering them to a 26-12 win over Bath at Ravenhill on Friday.
Once the smoke had finally cleared from the pre-match fireworks display, the start of the tie itself was far from explosive.
Both sides opened tentatively, until the first points were chalked up by Bath out-half Ryan Davis with an eighth minute penalty. This was matched a minute later by Ian Humphreys with a well-struck penalty of his own from the right wing.
On 13 minutes, Ulster’s tally was added to by the in-form Timoci Nagusa, who picked up close to the line after a defence-splitting surge from Clinton Schifcofske to dot down his third try in as many matches.
Humphreys’ conversion was spot on to hand Ulster a 10-3 buffer in coach Brian McLaughlin’s first Heineken Cup match.
Ulster were on top, and quickly had two more good scoring opportunities after alert play had won them a couple of 50-50 balls.
However, Bath rallied and they were next to score with a 20th minute penalty from Davis bringing the visitors back to within four points.
The following ten minutes saw the English outfit in control of the ball but with the wet weather conditions influencing proceedings, scores were becoming hard to come by.
On 35 minutes, a Bath infringement in the maul gave Humphreys his second penalty opportunity of the evening, which agonisingly veered just wide of the left-hand post, and was to prove the last significant action of the first half.
The second period opened with another handling error from Bath, giving Ulster early possession and the first meaningful attack of the half.
Ulster’s build-up play was patient, but with the Bath defensive line congested there appeared to be no route through. Humphreys elected for the drop goal and it was expertly executed for a 13-6 scoreline.
Davis’ 48th minute penalty kept Bath heads above water, then two successive Ulster charge downs within 30 seconds raised the Ravenhill decibel level.
Sensing a score after a series of swift passes, Ulster exposed a gap in the Bath defence which young flanker Willie Faloon was able to exploit. The Ballynahinch clubman grounded the ball under the posts, giving Humphreys the simplest of conversions and moving Ulster 20-9 clear.
Davis added a further three points for the visitors with his fourth penalty a minute later, but the Bath back-line was clearly rattled by the Ulster pressure and gifted a further three points on 58 minutes.
They were penalised after needlessly conceding a lineout deep in their own half and Humphreys mopped up with another crisp kick.
In the closing minutes, Ulster pressed on for further tries. Nagusa gained ground on the left wing but, despite swift passing and recycling, the hosts unable to breach the try-line and eventually lost possession.
Bath flanker Andy Beattie was red carded for stamping, with five minutes to go, and the excellent Humphreys slotted over the subsequent penalty from distance, ending any thoughts of a Bath revival.