Any impartial observer would agree that Ulster dominated the first half, carving out two notable try-scoring chances which were blighted only by the final decisive pass. The men in blue showed great enterprise from the beginning, with good work in particular from Andrew Trimble in the ninth minute earning the game's first penalty after Dimitri Yachvili's desperate tackle. Ruan Pienaar narrowly missed the kick, but four minutes later a second penalty opportunity arose, and the Springbok this time made no mistake, sliding his team in the lead at Biarritz 0 Ulster 3.
Biarritz launched on the attack straight from the restart and, after hesitation from Ulster as the ball dropped, applied pressure and quickly earned a penalty of their own. Yachvili chose to run the penalty rather than go for the posts, a decision the Basques were soon to regret as the attack broke down with a forward pass.
Into the second quarter, and Ulster continued to dictate play, although they were unlucky to lose Simon Danielli on 25 minutes to injury. With Adam D'Arcy on in the Scotsman's place, Ulster continued to press, and Ian Humphreys soon threatened down the left wing, only to for the attack to be undone by another forward pass at the crucial moment.
With half an hour gone and nothing to show for their efforts thus far, Biarritz started to look frustrated and were further ruffled by Humphreys, who forced a five-metre scrum after hounding the dithering Ian Balshaw behind his own line. But, from this promising position, Ulster squandered their best scoring opportunity of the game to date when Pienaar's lobbed pass was intercepted by the same Balshaw before it could reach Pedrie Wannenburg just metres from the line.
The resulting clearance was fumbled and knocked on by Trimble, giving Biarritz rare momentum with a scrum just outside the Ulster '22'. Ulster soon turned over but committed an elementary error with an offside in front of the posts, allowing Yachvili to slot over and bring the score level at Biarritz 3 Ulster 3.
Ulster had the time to come close once more before the break, when Robbie Diack charged down, ran 20 metres and looked to supply Wannenburg for a sure-fire try, but the ball eluded the giant Springbok flanker and spiralled into touch to spare Biarritz once again.
Half-Time Score Biarritz 3 Ulster 3
Biarritz came out for the second half in an entirely different state of mind, launching straight onto the attack and scoring in the corner on 43 minutes through Takudzwa Ngwenya after some quick thinking and sleight-of-hand from Magnus Lund close to the line. Yachvili's conversion went over via the post to put the Biarrots ahead at Biarritz 10 Ulster 3.
As the half progressed Ulster proved unable to get any concerted possession, until Stephen Ferris used brute force to somehow plunder the ball from Jerome Thion's grasp on 50 minutes. But Botha was shortly penalised for an accidental offside, handing possession back to the French, and with it the chance to extend their lead. Yachvili was perfectly composed and split the posts from distance to make it Biarritz 13 Ulster 3.
A high tackle from Johann Muller just before the hour mark gave Yachvili licence to widen the gap further still with the boot. Worse still for Ulster came on 60 minutes, with a Biarritz break in midfield and clinical passing allowing Manuel Carizza to touch down and effectively seal victory for the French. Yachvili converted with aplomb, elevating the score to Biarritz 23 Ulster 3.
Ulster, knowing full well they had nothing to lose by this stage, threw caution to the wind and were rewarded for their abandon with a Trimble try in the 68thminute. Pienaar's wayward conversion meant the score stayed at Biarritz 23 Ulster 8 with barely ten minutes remaining.
With the prospect of a four-try bonus point stirring them on, Biarritz pushed back on to the attack, and landed a further two scores to rub salt into Ulster's already smarting wounds; the first through replacement Sylvain Marconnet on 70 minutes after excellent work from Yachvili, who also converted the score, and the second on the cusp of injury time from that man Ngwenya again.
Ulster still had the time to register a second consolation try deep into injury time, grounded by Ferris and converted by Pienaar, but as the Biarrots celebrated, Brian McLaughlin's men were left to rue the missed chances in the first half, which, if the rub of the green had gone Ulster's way, could have secured the province's first ever win on French soil. As it stands Ulster sit in third place in Pool Four on five points, with Heineken Cup progress still a realistic prospect despite today's setback.
Full-Time Score Biarritz 35 Ulster 15
(15 - 9) D Haylett-Petty, T Ngwenya, C Gimenez, M Bond, I Balshaw, J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili
(1 - 8) E Coetzee, B August, C Johnstone, J Thion, M Carizza, M Lund, S Vahafolau, I Harinordoquy (c)
Replacements (16 - 23) R Terrain, S Marconnet, A Barozzi, F Faure, B Guyot, D Traille, A Mignardi, I Bolakoro
(15 - 9) D McIlwaine, A Trimble, I Whitten, P Wallace, S Danielli, I Humphreys, R Pienaar
(1 - 8) T Court, R Best (c), BJ Botha, J Muller, T Barker, P Wannenburg, S Ferris, R Diack
Replacements (16 - 23) A Kyraicou, P McAllister, B Young, D Tuohy, C Henry, P Marshall, N Spence, A D'Arcy
|Biarritz Olympique Pays Basque Score Card|
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|