Ulster pulled off a famous victory, their first in the Heineken Cup in England, but they still failed to make it out of Pool Four and into the quarter-finals. Tries from Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave and Paddy Wallace made for a miserable exit from the competition for Bath. They had no chance of progressing before the game, but their day got worse when they had the former England lock Danny Grewcock sent off, for stamping on the arm of Stephen Ferris, in the 32nd minute.
Bath, the European champions of 1998, finished bottom of the pool, with just one win. Ulster, who won the tournament in 1999, missed out on a quarter-final place because they failed to earn a bonus point for scoring four tries here. A losing bonus point for Stade Français in Edinburgh was therefore enough to put the Parisians through.
Ulster's 22-year-old fly-half Niall O'Connor opened the scoring on six minutes after Bath fell offside while defending their 22 from a rapid counter-attack by the flanker David Pollock and hooker Nigel Brady. Almost from the restart Nicky Little had a chance to pull Bath level, but the Fijian No 10 struck the post from 35 metres and the ball was cleared.
Ulster continued their bright start, setting up a position in the Bath 22 with a clever kick-through by Cave. His midfield partner, Wallace, then wriggled through a gap to threaten the Bath line, but Ulster knocked on from the ensuing ruck.
Bath found themselves under needless pressure when their pack was penalised en masse for gathering too slowly for a line-out. Ulster worked the ball to Ferris and he drove into the defence, setting up a ruck from which Bath's openside flanker, Julian Salvi, was penalised. O'Connor made it 6-0 from in front of the posts with 19 minutes gone.
Ulster had made all the running in the first quarter but Bath snatched the lead almost straight after the visitors' second penalty. Ulster failed to gather the restart and the ball was moved quickly through the hands of the Bath backs for the Kiwi full-back Joe Maddock to send the gigantic England wing Matt Banahan in at the corner. Little converted from the touchline.
The Fijian then conjured an excellent kick out of hand to force Ulster into their own 22, but the Irish province mauled their way out of danger from the line-out. With the Ulster set-pieces functioning well and O'Connor finding his range with his tactical kicks, the visitors soon returned to the attack. On the half-hour Bath found themselves under pressure again and Matt Carraro was penalised for diving in at the side of a ruck. O'Connor chose to chip the penalty to the corner rather than attempt another shot at the posts and Ulster turned up the pressure again with a catch and drive.
As a ruck broke up on 32 minutes the French referee, Jérôme Garces, called Grewcock over and showed him the red card. No one in the ground seemed to have seen the incident that prompted the card but television replays showed the lock forward had stamped on Ferris's arm after the blindside flanker had held on to his foot. O'Connor kicked the penalty and Bath held out to go in at half-time two points down. But Ulster scored immediately after the break.
What a try it was. Simon Danielli fielded a kick on his own 22 and made ground before linking with Andrew Trimble. The Ireland wing set off on a 65-metre run to the Bath line, deceiving Little with a clever change of pace before touching down. Seven minutes later Danielli was the creator again, setting off on an 80-metre run of his own before offloading to Cave for a try that had the Ulster fans on their feet. This time O'Connor had no difficulty with the conversion.
Little pulled back three points with a penalty at the other end but Bath's efforts to get back into the game were increasingly frantic. Ulster wrapped things up shortly before time when Wallace wriggled over under the posts.
It was not enough to seal a quarter-final spot, but the Irish province may yet gain a place in the last eight of the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup.
Bath J Maddock (J Cuthbert, 74); M Stephenson, M Carraro, S Hape, M Banahan; N Little (R Davis, 76), M Claassens (capt; S Bemand, 76); D Flatman (D Barnes, 64), L Mears (P Dixon, 64), D Wilson (A Jarvis, 74), D Grewcock, S Hooper, A Beattie (P Short, 50), L Watson (J Fa'amatuainu, 69), J Salvi.
Ulster J Smith; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, S Danielli; N O'Connor, I Boss (B Willis, 74); T Court (B Young, 74), N Brady (A Kyriacou, 64), B J Botha (D Fitzpatrick, 64), D Tuohy, E O'Donoghue (R Caldwell, 66), S Ferris (TJ Anderson, 74), D Pollock, C Henry.
Referee: J Garces (France).