Clermont took control directly from their own kick-off, and barely 90 seconds had elapsed before Parra had the chance to chalk up an early lead from a kickable penalty on the right flank, but his effort veered off-target. However, it wasn't long before the visitors had five points instead of three, pacy winger Noa Nakaitachi touching down after the Clermont centre tandem of Rougerie and Regan King had ripped a hole in the Ulster defence. Parra's poor kicking form continued as his conversion attempt missed the posts, but his side led at Ulster 0 Clermont 5 on seven minutes.
With Clermont penalised for collapsing a 10th-minute scrum, Humphreys kicked Ulster's first points of the afternoon from the opposition's 10-metre line, and the hosts then began to apply their first spell of pressure. This lasted only a matter of minutes, however, before Ulster were again penalised in a kickable position, and this time Skrela took the responsibility, making no mistake with the boot.
This minor setback seemed to spark Ulster into life, and, with Paul Marshall dashing forth after a quickly-taken penalty, great pressure from the men in white narrowly failed to deliver an equalising try on 20 minutes, with a last-gap French hand intercepting Humphreys' final pass to Gilroy on the left wing. As possession and territory then ebbed back in the Frenchmen's favour, an errant drop goal attempt from Skrela came and went, until an Ulster penalty on the half-hour mark earned a line-out right on the Clermont 22.
The ensuing surge was blighted by an unfortunate knock-on as Paddy Wallace supplied Simon Danielli, and Ulster's best try-scoring opportunity of the half evaporated into the Ravenhill air. Clermont worked hard at closing out the half with a strong mauling display deep in Ulster territory, forcing another penalty on 38 minutes, which Skrela gratefully dispatched. Just on the stroke of the break, however, Humphreys kept Ulster in touching distance with another 22-metre penalty.
Half-Time Score Ulster 6 Clermont 11
A superb muscular tackle from Danielli on Rougerie just after the restart, knocking the ball clean from the centre's hands, served as an early statement of intent for Ulster's second half performance, and with the visitors penalised for infringing at the maul on 45 minutes, Humphreys was unlucky to see his kick spin wide of the posts.
With an Ulster scrum upgraded to a penalty after an off-the-ball push by Parra, Ulster advanced well from the line-out and forced another penalty, which Humphreys this time dispatched with ease from directly in front of the posts, making it Ulster 9 Clermont 11 on 50 minutes.
The match now poised at its critical stage, two errors quickly followed from within the visitors' ranks. Firstly, replacement fly-half Brock James fluffed a long-distance penalty attempt on 58 minutes, and then, when full-back Lee Byrne knocked on a high kick on his own 22 five minutes later, Ulster found themselves in possession in a promising position - until penalised for collapsing the resulting scrum.
Undeterred, Ulster kept asking the Clermont defence questions and, when Adam D'Arcy, recently entered for the injured Danielli, exposed a gap on the left flank, Ulster administered the killer blow. D'Arcy sped down the wing, judiciously holding on to the ball long enough for Humphreys to catch him up, and fed the out-half at the perfect moment. Humphreys crossed the line to deafening cheers inside Ravenhill, and had the composure to convert his own try, setting the score at Ulster 16 Clermont 11.
A Clermont missed penalty in the 75th minute did nothing to dampen Ravenhill spirits, and, with two minutes remaining, the final play of the match saw the frustrated Frenchmen unable to penetrate some stubborn Ulster resistance in midfield. A hard-fought and well-deserved victory, then, which will give Brian McLaughlin and his charges confidence for next Saturday's second Heineken Cup pool match, in the den of the Leicester Tigers.
Full-Time Score Ulster 16 Clermont 11
(15 - 9) S Danielli; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, P Marshall
(1 - 8) T Court, R Best, J Afoa; J Muller (c), D Tuohy; S Ferris, C Henry, P Wannenburg
Replacements (16 - 23) A Kyriacou, P McAllister, D Fitzpatrick, L Stevenson, W Faloon, I Porter, N Spence, A D'Arcy
(15 - 9) L Byrne; W Fofana, A Rougerie (c), R King, N Nakaitaci; D Skrela, M Parra
(1 - 8) L Faure, B Kayser, D Zirakashvili; N Hines, J Pierre; J Bonnaire, G Vosloo, E Vermeulen
Replacements (16 - 23) T Paulo, C Ric, D Kotze, J White, J Bardy, K Senio, B James, J-M Buttin
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|ASM Clermont Auvergne Score Card|