Ulster seize huge opportunity for home tie in Heineken’s last eight

John Afoa runs in Ulster's third try
John Afoa runs in Ulster's third try

It is a sign of the times that a big win in Europe against one of the top sides from France failed to get Ravenhill rocking.

The Belfast venue was bouncing a week earlier after Ulster had defeated PRO12 leaders, Munster.

Yet on Friday night, as Ulster secured their fifth straight Pool Five win in a 27-16 victory over Montpellier - the air of disappointment which hung over Ravenhill was quite remarkable.

It came down to two reasons.

Firstly, Ulster did not perhaps play as well as they could - although it was no better than the performance which had defeated Munster.

Secondly, they had failed to get a losing bonus point which everyone seemed to think was just a matter of course and was also vital to their further progress.

The victory saw Ulster remain top of Pool Five, in control of their own destiny and assured them a place in the last eight - the fourth consecutive year they have reached the quarter-finals.

Leicester, as expected got a bonus point win in Treviso and moved to within two points of the Irish Province.

The two sides go into a straight shoot-out with the prize a crucial and lucrative home draw in the last eight.

Ulster’s failure to get a try scoring bonus point - even if it was there for the taking - did not make one bit of difference to what was going to happen at Welford Road this Saturday.

They were still going to have to go across the sheugh and not lose to the Tigers.

A draw would get them over the line, and yes, if they had picked up a bonus point against Montpellier, even a losing bonus point, provided the other maths in the final scoreline against Leicester were right, could have seen them achieve their goal.

But it is probably better that Ulster know they need to go and win the game.

Yes, there are issues with their scrum, lineout and maul which need to be addressed. Yes, they have not been performing to the best of their abililty in recent weeks.

But it keeps them focused on the job at hand, gives them plenty to work on which is ideal going into the game.

The time to be disappointed will come on Saturday if they fail to win, even though they have already qualified.

To have come this far........