ASM CLERMONT 29 ULSTER 13
Ulster put on a feisty display in the hostile Stade Marcel Michelin arena but still failed to take anything away from their French trip eventually losing 29-13 to ASM Clermont.
The Irish Province must now win in Belfast on Saturday against Bath to be sure of a place in the quarter-finals this season.
Dan McFarland’s side had led 10-9 going into the second half before Clermont finally wore them down.
Ulster came out of the traps quickly and soon were attacking in the Clermont '22' and a penalty from scrum half John Cooney had them 3-0 ahead in as many minutes.
Three minutes later Clermont equalised with a drop goal from outhalf Camille Lopez, but Ulster silenced the noisy home support with a try on eight minutes.
Having gone through phases, prop Marty Moore made a lively dart before showing great hands to slip the ball to Cooney and he raced in for the try and converted for a 10-3 advantage.
The Irish Province remained in the ascendancy but coughed up a number of good chances to increase their lead and on 17 minutes, in a rare sortie to Ulster territory, scrumhalf Morgan Parra slotted over a penalty.
A break from Jacob Stockdale came unrewarded, but in the scuffle which followed Parra was yellow carded. But Ulster were unable to press the numerical advantage, missed a couple of good chances and when they did get kickable penalties, turned them down for touch and then their lineout would malfunction on two occasions.
In the closing minutes of the half the home fans found their voices again and Parra, fresh from the sin-bin, slotted over a penalty to take his side in at the break trailing by just a point.
Parra missed a straight forward penalty attempt two minutes into the second half, but Ulster were still not off the hook and although it looked as though winger Alivereti Raka had come up short of the line, the TMO review showed the ball had touched the try line. Parra slotted over the touchline conversion and Clermont were in front for the first time in the tie at 16-10.
Ulster enjoyed a purple patch for 15 minutes, but the home defence stood up stoutly with Cooney able to bring Ulster to 16-13 with a penalty in front of the posts on 64 minutes.
A silly penalty giveaway from Marcell Coetzee on 66 minutes presented easy points for the hosts, Parra with his last act of the game before being replaced by Greig Laidlawm restoring the six point advantage once again.
Cooney made a timely intervention to deny winger Damian Penaud getting in for a try, but Laidlaw added a penalty eight minutes from time to take Ulster out of losing bonus point range.
Four minutes from the end the contest ended when centre George Moala went over for a try, Laidlaw converting and it was 29-13.
Ulster rallied in the closing minutes, but still could not find a way through.