The unerring boot of South African scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar took Ulster into their first Heineken Cup final since 1999, with a 22-19 win over Edinburgh at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Pienaar kicked five penalties and a conversion, including the game’s opening score from the halfway line in blustery conditions, while compatriot Pedrie Wannenburg barged over the line for a try in the first half.
Edinburgh flyhalf Greig Laidlaw’s four penalties and a last-gasp Jim Thompson-converted try kept the scores close. After 45 minutes, the Scots had trailed by just a point.
However, 1999 champions Ulster dominated the possession and they were able to rely on the brilliance of Pienaar, whose astute tactical kicking and all-round performance with 17 points helped keep Edinburgh at bay.
“A lot of guts and character were showed out there, I’m glad we got the win,” the South African, whose team were reduced to 14 men in the first half after Stefan Terblanche was yellow carded, told Sky Sports.
Ireland hooker Rory Best said Ulster owed a great deal to the hordes of supporters in the stadium and that the players shared their delight after many years of trying to reach European rugby’s showpiece final again.
“The Ulster fans were like a 16th man to us,” Best said.
Ulster’s opponents in the May 19 final at Twickenham were to be decided yesterday when French side Clermont Auvergne, in their first ever semi-final, were scheduled to meet holders and twice champions Leinster.