Ulster's already slim chances of making the Heineken Cup quarter-finals were given the lifeline they needed with this bonus point win over London Irish at Ravenhill last night.
Maximum points were essential to give Mark McCall's squad any hope of European survival and Paul Steinmetz's 76th minute try gave the home side the all-important boost ahead of leaders Llanelli's game at Toulouse this afternoon, a game the French side must win to set up a nail-biting finish for qualification.
After losing their way in a panic-stricken first-half, Ulster rediscovered their touch and, with Humphreys grabbing an opportunistic second-half try, they made made up for their collapse at London Irish last week.
"Our second half was very smart," McCall said. "We got the platform and David Humphreys was magnificent in getting us into those areas where we could apply pressure. We got at their lineout and the back of their scrum. I was delighted with the attitude all week and it wasn't a big surprise to me that we came back the way we did."
They showed their intent from the off when opting to kick for the corner instead of aiming at the posts but they failed to capitalise and began to show a lack of precision in attack and defence, and it was little surprise that Irish opened the scoring with a Shane Geraghty penalty, after 14 minutes.
The home side did put together a brief passage of constructive ball when, from a scrum, Humphreys cross kicked for Andrew Trimble to make the left corner. Another Geraghty penalty on 30 minutes gave Irish a 6-5 lead, and Ulster's only response before the break was for Paul Steinmetz to miss a drop goal attempt and then Humphreys was wide with a penalty. The veteran made amends shortly after the restart when, after shaping to take a penalty, Irish turned their backs and Humphreys tapped the ball and dashed over in the corner. He then made the conversion.
With the home side now in control, Humphreys stretched the lead to 15-6 after 49 minutes and then, two minutes before the hour, the Neil McMillan crossed for a converted try. Irish struck back with a Gonzalo Tiesi try just after the hour, but Ulster closed the deal shortly afterwards. With Bob Casey in the bin, Steinmetz grabbed the vital bonus point try. Humphreys converted to make it 29-13.
* In Pool Three last night, Ospreys beat Calvisano 26-9, their third win of the campaign.
Ulster: Cunningham; Bartholomeusz, Steinmetz, Wallace, Trimble; Humphreys, Boss; J Fitzpatrick, R Best, S Best, Harrison, McCullough, N Best, Dawson, Wilson. Replacements: Shields, B Young, Barker, McMillan, Campbell, Maggs, S Young.
London Irish: Horak; D Armitage, Mapusua, Catt, Bishop; Geraghty, Hodgson; Hatley, Coetzee, Lea'aetoa, Kennedy, Casey, Roche, S Armitage, Leguizamon. Replacements: Collins, Paice, Rautembach, J Hudson, P Murphy, Pedro Tiesi, Everitt.
Referee: C Berdos (France).