MONTPELLIER 8 ULSTER 25: So, yet another momentous milestone in Ulster's hoped for evolution towards realising their goal of reaching Europe's summit. A second ever win on French soil, achieved in such stunning fashion that it even surprised the most optimistic of Ulster followers who made the trek to southern France, never mind what it did to Montpellier's faithful.
Of more immediate importance, though, this seismic result also makes Ulster leading candidates to ultimately top their beast of a pool and make the knockout stages for the fourth season running in what now looks as if it could turn into a straight shoot-out with Leicester Tigers – two adrift of Ulster on six points – to finish top and automatically progress.
After the arm-wrestle at Castres last season – Ulster’s first ever competitive success in France – achieving back-to-back away wins over Top 14 sides by downing the mighty Montpellier was achieved off one of the Irish province’s most complete and eye-catchingly ruthless performances.
Few had really believed that they could go to the fearsome Stade Yves du Manoir and go one better than Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont who this season have all failed to get the better of Montpellier on their home turf.
Instead, Mark Anscombe’s side put down a very clear marker to all their European rivals while even managing to deny Montpellier so much as a losing bonus in this their humiliating, first home defeat of the season.
And in doing so, Ulster have also become the first side to win a Heineken Cup game in Montpellier since coach Fabien Galthie's squad came into the competition three seasons ago.
Afterwards, Mark Anscombe was obviously delighted at the result saying, "To come here and beat them and inflict their first home defeat this year, it's a pretty great occasion for our boys.
“We had talked about what we wanted to do and did just that. The defence was outstanding, we accumulated points, our kicking game was great and our chasing completed it.
“We wanted to turn their big guys around, make them work hard, make them have to get back to do the work and that’s what we achieved.”
The win was crafted off an unerringly accurate tactical kicking game from Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson, which constantly rattled Montpellier with an kick-chase aerial assault, as well as some notably aggressive defending – try-saving tackles by Roger Wilson and Jackson being the two most high profile – and a desire to put width on the ball when required.
Ulster are now the only unbeaten side in Pool Five and with their back-to-back games against Treviso next up in December, Anscombe knows that, all being well, his squad are now in a very strong position.
It was a huge effort which saw Pienaar again produce a master-class in tactical kicking as well as scoring 15 vital second half points with his boot. Fellow place-kicker Jackson was not far behind in terms of his game management which contributed the conversion of Andrew Trimble’s electrifying first-half try and an 80th minute penalty.
But this was also all about Ulster's pack managing to cope with Montpellier's powerful eight, who despite not having the injured Nick Williams and surviving some wobbly enough moments in the scrums, had assumed they would bully the visitors at the set-pieces and breakdown.
Rory Best, who topped the tackle count with 17 hits, Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry, Tom Court and Roger Wilson all tirelessly toiled at the coal-face along with another energetic cameo off the bench from Iain Henderson while Welsh referee Leighton Hodges left the French reeling with a series of decisions which infuriated them as the game slipped away.
All Galthie could ultimately do was resort to hauling off several of his high profile underachievers off early with props Maximiliano Bustos and Yvan Watremez, pile-driving Georgian flanker Mamuka Gorgodze and star player Jonathan Pelissie all notably called ashore.
Shortly after Pelissie had slotted a third-minute penalty, Ulster struck when Jared Payne's counter-attack saw Trimble and Tommy Bowe combine down the left which put Trimble over and left ex-Ulster player Timoci Nagusa clutching air.
Jackson converted Trimble’s score and though he missed a further penalty in the first half, while Pienaar was wide with two, Ulster still pushed on from their 7-3 interval lead.
Pienaar landed a monster effort early in the second half and then winger Yoan Audrie wriggled over for an unconverted try to worryingly close Ulster's lead to 10-8.
From there, though, Montpellier's lack of composure and Ulster's superior aggression won through with four more Pienaar penalties Guiding them om their way with the denouement coming from Jackson's sole three-pointer right at the death.
MONTPELLIER: A Floch; T Nagusa, A Tuitavke, W Olivier, Y Audrin; F Trinh-Duc, J Pelissie; Y Watremez, M Ivaldi, M Bustos; J Hamilton, T Privat; F Ouedraogo (c), M Gorgodze, K Galletier. Replacements: T Combezou for Olivier (23mins), B Sicart for Floch (34mins), M Nariashvili for Watremez (46mins), T Privat for Hamilton (57mins), T Bianchin for Ivaldi (62mins), F Quercy for Gorgodze,, B Paillaugue for Pelissie (all 64mins), N Mas for Bustos (67mins).
ULSTER : J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, T Bowe; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, D Fitzpatrick; J Muller (c), D Tuohy; R Diack, C Henry, R Wilson. Replacements: J Afoa for Fitzpatrick (48mins), S Olding for L Marshall (50mins), I Henderson for Diack (53mins), C Black for Court (70mins), M Allen for A Trimble, R Herring for R Best. P Marshall for R Pienaar (all 74 mins); L Stevenson for J Muller (75 mins).
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales).