Brian McLaughlin's team selection for the Province's first European semi-final in 13 years saw the youthful Paddy Jackson get the nod over the more experienced Ian Humphreys at out-half, while Wannenburg and Paddy Wallace shrugged off injury concerns picked up eight days previously against Leinster to start at 8 and 12 respectively. Chris Henry was unfortunate to miss out due to an ankle injury suffered in the same match, and was replaced by Willie Faloon at flanker. Meanwhile, Rory Best, Stephen Ferris and Dan Tuohy all returned to action after being rested in the defeat to the league leaders.
Despite the deafening chants of "Stand Up for the Ulstermen" inside the Aviva Stadium as play began, Edinburgh slightly edged the early exchanges, until the concession of a fourth-minute penalty for coming in from the side on half-way. Pienaar showed no evidence of early jitters as he slotted over the long-range kick to perfection, but the lead lasted less than five minutes, as Greig Laidlaw equalised with a kick from a similar distance.
Edinburgh's top Heineken Cup points scorer, with a tally of 82 before the match began, stepped up again only moments later to kick his side ahead with the encounter's third consecutive penalty from outside the opposition 10-metre line. Then, as the game pursued its free-flowing rhythm, Ulster probed well straight from the restart, eventually forcing a five-metre scrum after neat play from Pienaar and Craig Gilroy. Great work from Wannenburg at the back of the scrum, dribbling then picking up and diving for the line, sent the Aviva's majority Ulster contingent into rapture on 15 minutes, and Pienaar converted his compatriot's score to make it Ulster 10 Edinburgh 6.
Ulster tails were up, and a second try moments later was only prevented by strong Edinburgh tackling after Wallace had capitalised on a charge-down to make a dash through the heart of the Scottish defence. Then, a try-saving intervention from Stefan Terblanche at the other end, and good sweeping up by Pienaar as Edinburgh's resulting five-metre scrum went awry, safeguarded the lead as the half-hour mark approached.
The Scots were looking more and more dangerous, however, and the pressure increased further still as Terblanche saw himself exiled to the sinbin on 30 minutes for an apparent slap on Edinburgh hooker Ross Ford, whom he felt was holding onto the ball too long in the tackle. However Ulster weathered the storm manfully, and were even able to extend their lead while a man down, the ever-accurate Pienaar once again splitting the posts.
However the half ended on a sour note for the Ulstermen, as Ferris was called offside and Laidlaw slotted over his third kick just prior to the whistle.
Half-Time Score Ulster 13 Edinburgh 9
The Edinburgh marksman had reduced the arrears to a solitary point within five minutes of the restart, but Ulster only narrowly failed to re-extend the lead as Darren Cave used all his dynamism to carve a hole through the Scots' midfield. Cave beat several men and fed a neat pass to Andrew Trimble on the right wing, but such was the force of Trimble's momentum that he knocked on and the chance went begging.
Then came a moment of individual brilliance from Pienaar as he kicked and chased deep into Edinburgh territory, exerting so much pressure on the ball-recuperating Tom Brown as to force the full-back out of play and earn the lineout well inside the '22'. As Ulster pushed and probed over the ensuing phases, both Tuohy and again Wannenburg found themselves in possession a matter of inches from the Edinburgh try-line, but both were held up by dogged defending and, when a penalty came on 57 minutes, Pienaar pragmatically opted for the three points, making it Ulster 16 Edinburgh 12.
A further Edinburgh infringement on 62 minutes allowed the flawless Springbok to increase the lead to seven, and Ulster came close to killing off the tie altogether as a trademark left-wing burst from the electric Gilroy only just failed to elude the Scottish rearguard on 66 minutes.
The victory was confirmed in the 75th minute, as more Edinburgh indiscipline at the scrum gave Pienaar office to slot over his fifth penalty, this time from directly in front of the posts. As the clock ticked past 80 minutes, Edinburgh finally breached the Ulster defence courtesy of replacement Jim Thompson, but Laidlaw's conversion was the final kick of the match, and Ulster were Twickenham-bound. In this sort of form, Ulster's eventual opponents, be they Leinster or Clermont Auvergne, will have their work cut out to prevent McLaughlin's men emulating the achievements of 1999.
Full-Time Score Ulster 22 Edinburgh 19
(15 - 9) S Terblanche; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar
(1 - 8) T Court, R Best, D Fitzpatrick; J Muller (c), D Tuohy; S Ferris, W Faloon, P Wannenburg
Replacements (16 - 23) N Brady, P McAllister, A Macklin, L Stevenson, R Diack, P Marshall, I Humphreys, A D'Arcy
(15 - 9) T Brown; L Jones, N De Luca, M Scott, T Visser; G Laidlaw (c), M Blair
(1 - 8) A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross; G Gilchrist, S Cox; D Denton, R Rennie, N Talei
Replacements (16 - 23) A Kelly, K Traynor, J Gilding, S Turnbull, R Grant, C Leck, P Godman, J Thompson
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Edinburgh Rugby Score Card|