Man-of-the-match Ruan Pienaar kicked Ulster into the Heineken Cup final as Brian McLaughlin’s side beat Edinburgh 22-19 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
The South African scrum-half kicked six from six, including five penalties and one conversion, in a haul of 17 points to add to fellow countryman Pedrie Wanneburg’s first half try to see off a spirited Edinburgh side for whom skipper Greig Laidlaw kicked 14 points and substitute Jim Thompson grabbed a late consolation try.
After Pienaar and Laidlaw had exchanged penalties early on, Edinburgh edged ahead with another Laidlaw effort on 12 minutes as Ulster went off their feet at the breakdown.
But Ulster took the lead on 16 minutes when Pedrie Wannenburg crashed over following a scrum close to the Edinburgh line. Pienaar added the extras and Ulster were 10-6 ahead.
Stefan Terreblache, insprirational for Brian McLaughlin’s side all season, was sinned binned on 29 minutes for throwing a punch at Ross Ford as the Edinburgh man lay in an offside position at the breakdown. But Edinburgh couldn’t capitalise on their advantage and it was Ulster who went further ahead when Pienaar slotted his second penalty of the game just a minute before the break.
But Michael Bradley’s side got themselves back in touch moments later when Stephen Ferris was penalised for knocking the ball out of Laidlaw’s hands illegally as the Scottish side threatened. The skipper duly slotted the penalty to leave just four points between the sides at 13-9 at the break.
Laidlaw struck with another penalty just after the restart and suddenly there was just a single point between the sides and an upset looked to be on the cards. Edinburgh then enjoyed a spell of possession close to the Ulster line, but failed to trouble the scoreboard as McLaughlin’s charges stood firm in defence.
Edinburgh’s failure to score at that time seemed to turn the tide in Ulster’s favour and they started to assert their authority on an opposition that suddenly began making basic handling errors.
Pienaar added three more penalties as Ulster began to sense that the game was there for the taking, and even Thompson’s superb consolation try in the final minute failed to take the shine off a famous day for the Ravenhill men who now await the winners of tomorrow’s clash between Clermont Auvergne and Leinster in the final on May 19th.