Despite playing into a strong wind, Ulster shaded the first half in terms of possession and territory if not on the scoreboard. A searching kick-off from Biarritz put them under immediate pressure, but Humphreys diligently cleared his lines, and moments later had the chance to open the scoring after Biarritz had been pulled up for offside. Silence fell over Ravenhill as the kick looked good all the way, but the ball swirled in the wind and finished by falling short of the posts.
After a protracted pause for an injury to Biarritz centre Marcelo Bosch, Ulster relaunched their offensive, with Stephen Ferris notably taking a huge hit at half-way on 10 minutes, from which he thankfully got up unscathed. The Ulstermen continued to probe without posing too significant a threat, but had their chances increased - on paper at least - after 17 minutes when Erik Lund was sent to the bin. This came about after a succession of infringements by the Frenchmen, who seemed intent on killing the ball, and slowing down play, as often as possible.
When an Ulster scrum collapsed in a thus-far rare Biarritz foray into opposition territory, Dimitri Yachvili slotted over the penalty from the Ulster 10-metre line to put his team ahead against the run of play. The Ulster response was spirited, with Adam D'Arcy getting to within inches of the line after Humphreys' pass had released Simon Danielli to rip through the heart of the Biarritz defence. The Basques defended clinically, though, and averted the danger until Lund re-entered the fray.
As half-time approached the game remained cagey, until a punt by Humphreys was somehow kept in play by the hand of Ferris, who palmed backwards from just inside the touchline. As Wannenburg kicked on, D'Arcy chased and came close to touching down amid a sea of Biarritz bodies - but not close enough, as a Biarritz hand got the crucial final touch.
Ulster ended the half deep in Biarritz territory, but in worsening conditions with a proper Ravenhill downpour on their hands, eventually knocked on and surrendered possession. Then, on the very cusp of half-time, Biarritz showed their clinical edge again with a second penalty dispatched with a minimum of fuss by Yachvili.
Half-Time Score Ulster 0 Biarritz 6
Hesitation from Biarritz as Humphreys kicked off upped the tempo straight from the restart and, although the Frenchmen cleared their lines, Ulster continued to make all the running. With the wind now in their favour, Humphreys elected to kick for goal from a penalty just inside his own half on 48 minutes, and it proved to be the right choice, as the ball soared between the posts to put Ulster on the scoreboard at Ulster 3 Biarritz 6.
A knock-on from Lund then gave Ulster the scrum on the Biarritz 10-metre line and, after forcing the line-out from a judicious kick-on from Humphreys, Ulster camped in the right-hand corner but were unable to find the final push to get them over the line. They regrouped, however, and Humphreys was on hand again in the 63rdminute penalty, keeping his cool to restore parity at Ulster 6 Biarritz 6.
The Biarritz reaction was swift as they launched upfield, but after several minutes of rucking in the Ulster camp, a hurried drop-goal attempt went awry and handed the initiative back to the home side. Any possession came to naught, however, and with Biarritz mounting another onslaught after the hour mark, only heroic tooth-and-nail defending from Ulster kept the Basques out and the scores level.
As the game entered its final 10 minutes, with Les Biarrots seemingly content to settle for the away draw, it was up to Ulster to fashion a flash of match-winning inspiration. This looked unlikely to come as both teams wrestled for the ball in the middle of the park, but then, with but two minutes remaining, the opportunity finally came when Biarritz again conceded a penalty. Placing the ball a good 50 metres from his target, Humphreys showed remarkable composure to swing his left boot and secure the hardest-fought of victories.
The Pool Four table now makes interesting reading, with both teams sitting on 17 points. Next week's matches now take on the utmost importance, with Ulster needing to secure a better result at Aironi than the Basques can achieve at home to Bath in order to top the group and guarantee a place in the quarter-finals.
Full-Time Score Ulster 9 Biarritz Olympique 6
(15 - 9) A D'Arcy; A Trimble, N Spence, P Wallace, S Danielli,; I Humphreys, R Pienaar
(1 - 8) T Court, R Best (c), BJ Botha, J Muller, D Tuohy, S Ferris, W Faloon, P Wannenburg
Replacements (16 -23) N Brady, B Young, D Fitzpatrick, T Barker, C Henry, P Marshall, I Whitten, D McIlwaine
(15 - 9) D Haylett-Petty; T Ngwenya, M Bosch, L Tranier, I Balshaw; D Traille, D Yachvili
(1 - 8) E Coetzee, B August, S Marconnet, J Thion, E Lund, M Lund, I Harinordoquy (c), R Lakafia
Replacements (16 - 23) R Terrain, R Watremez, A Barozzi, P I Taele, S Vahafolau, J Peyrelongue, M Bond, I Bolakoro
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Biarritz Olympique Pays Basque Score Card|