MONTPELLIER 8 ULSTER 25
Ulster showed great strength and character to come away from the Stade Yves du Manoir with this deserved win.
Ruan Piennar kicked 15 points - five penalties from seven - to keep the scoreboard ticking over as the Irish Province went on to record only their second win on French soil in Europe.
Ulster now head Pool Five by two points from Leicester Tigers going into the mini-break after inflicting Montpellier’s first home defeat in the Heineken Cup.
In spite of playing into the elements, Ulster dominated the first half. The pack assserted themselves early on.
The French side missed an early penalty on two minutes through fullback Anthoy Floch, but scrumhalf Jonathan Pelissie did give them the lead after four minutes when he found his range.
However, the home side were stunned and the French fans silenced when a lovely backline movement saw Ulster get in for a try on 10 minutes. Darren Cave made the initial surge, drew two players before feeding Andrew Trimble. A lovely one-two with Tommy Bowe resulted in Trimble going over for the score. Outhalf Paddy Jackson landed the conversion for a 7-3 advantage.
Scrumhalf, Ruan Pienaar was to miss two penalty attempts - one rebounding off the post - while Jackson was wide with another effort which had let the home side off the hook.
Ulster had a couple of half chances, but it was their defence which was key at the French tried to press. A drop goal from Francois Trinh-Duc went across the target two minutes from the break.
Pienaar broke his duck from the ground five minutes into the second half with a penalty from just inside his own half to give Ulster a 10-7 lead.
But on the 49th minute Montpellier really turned the screw. Ulster prop, John Afoa, on as a replacement a minute later for his first appearance in the Ulster jersey this season after a calf injury, was all over the place in a scrum and when the ball was flashed wide, winger Yoan Audrin went in for a try, Pelissie unable to convert from the touchline.
Ulster showed strength of character to weather a French storm and then came so close to scoring a try, but Tom Court was unable to get the ball away to Rory Best.
Pienaar slotted over a penalty on 58 minutes to put two scores between the sides at 16-8.
In the last quarter, Ulster frustrated the French in every facet of the game. Montpellier attacked and Ulster defended stoutly. The Irish Province contested scrums, lineouts and the breakdown superbly, never letting the French get a sniff.
Another penalty by Pienaar on 70 minutes gave Ulster the cushion they needed at 19-8.
It looked as though Montpellier had thrown themselves a lifeline seven minutes from the end but Thomas Comnbezou was nailed by Jackson and Trimble and Pienaar flyhacked clear.
Cave forced a penalty six minutes from time and Pienaar nailed it to make it 22-8 and it knocked the stuffing out of the French who had little more to give.
Jackson rounded a memorable away win off for Ulster slotting over a penalty with the last kick of the game.
Montpellier: Anthony Floch; Timoci Nagusa, Anthony Tuitavke, Wynand Olivier, Yoan Audrin; Francois Trinh-Duc, Jonathan Pelissie; Yvan Watremez, Mickael Ivaldi, Maximiliano Bustos, Jim Hamilton, Thibaut Privat, Fulgence Ouedraogo (c), Mamuka Gorgodze, Kelian Galletier
Replacements: Thomas Bianchin (Ivaldi 62), Mikheil Nariashvili (Watremez 46), Nicolas Mas, Fed Quercy (Gorgodze 62), Robins Tchale Watchou (Privat 46), Benoit Paillaugue, Thomas Combezou (Olivier 23), Benoit Sicart (Floch 34), Hamilton ( Privat 57)
Ulster: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Tommy Bowe; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (c), Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Roger Wilson
Replacements: Rob Herring (Best 74), Callum Black (Court 71), John Afoa (Fitzpatrick 48), Lewis Stevenson (Muller 74), Iain Henderson (Diack 52), Paul Marshall (Pienaar 78), Stuart Olding (L Marshall 52), Michael Allen (Trimble 74).
Pens: Pienaar (5), Jackson
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)