South African star Ruan Pienaar kicked 21 points as Ulster routed former double champions Leicester 41-7 on Friday, putting his side on the brink of European Cup quarter-final qualification.
The bonus-point win gave Ulster 19 points on top of Pool Four and left 2001 and 2002 winners Leicester virtually out of contention for a place in the last eight after suffering a record defeat.
“We are out. We will be third in our group. We are done,” Leicester boss Richard Cockerill said.
Ulster’s South African skipper Johann Muller praised his team.
“That was definitely one of our best performances in terms of taking our chances and the passion we showed, but it doesn’t mean anything unless we get some points in Clermont [in the last round of games next week]. We have to make sure we do what we have to do,” Muller said.
Ulster, the 1999 champions, were off to a flying start at Ravenhill, racing into 10-0 lead inside the first 10 minutes with winger Andrew Trimble diving into the corner for the opening try and scrumhalf Pienaar adding the extras.
Ice-cool Pienaar then added a penalty, but Leicester’s veteran skipper Geordan Murphy cut the deficit on the quarter-hour mark.
England scrumhalf Ben Youngs was the architect with a clever, delayed pass which sucked in three Ulster defenders and allowed 34-year-old Murphy to sprint through the gap and score his 24th career try in the competition.
Billy Twelvetrees converted for 10-7 to the home side.
Leicester were then penalized at the breakdown on halfway and Pienaar booted a monster, long-distance penalty for a 13-7 advantage.
Pienaar, a 51-cap international, then set up Trimble for a carbon-copy of his opening try just before the interval, with the Ireland international winger shrugging off the muscular attentions of Alesana Tuilagi to touch down, tight in the corner.
This time Pienaar was off target with a tricky conversion, but Ulster were still in front 18-7 at the break.
Twelvetrees, deputizing for the injured Toby Flood, missed a simple opportunity to cut the deficit in the second minute of the second half when he cracked his penalty against a post.
Pienaar then showed Twelvetrees how to do it by hitting two successive penalties — awarded for hands in the ruck and for holding onto the ball — for a 24-7 advantage.
Leicester’s discipline and shape continued to disintegrate and Pienaar again popped over a penalty for a 27-7 lead, before the English side lost replacement prop Dan Cole to the sin-bin for arguing with the referee.
Ulster’s third try also had a significant South African stamp on it when Pienaar, fullback Stefan Terblanche and No. 8 Pedrie Wannenburg all combined to send Craig Gilroy over.
Pienaar hit the conversion, before the home side secured the bonus point eight minutes from time when replacement scrumhalf Paul Marshall took a tap penalty and sprinted away for the score.
Not surprisingly, Pienaar, now at outside-half, added the conversion.
In Pool Two, Edinburgh stayed in contention for a first quarter-final place in eight seasons when replacement flyhalf Phil Godman kicked a last-minute drop-goal to secure a 27-24 win over Racing Metro 92.
The win gave Edinburgh a four-point lead over Cardiff, who were set to face London Irish yesterday.
“The drop-goal was hopeful, but I’m happy for Phil, who has just returned after six months out,” Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley said.