South Africa’s Rugby World Cup winner Duane Vermeulen scored his first Ulster try as the Irish province beat Clermont 34-31 on Saturday to finish second in Pool A of the European Champions Cup.
Vermeulen, 35, bundled over with half an hour left on his fourth appearance for the Ravenhill outfit after joining from the Blue Bulls in September.
The 1999 champions were already guaranteed a knock-out place before the game and the French side, runners-up on three occasions, joined their opponents in the next round after Glasgow Warriors lost 38-30 to La Rochelle in the day’s final game.
Jacobus van Tonder, Alivereti Raka and Judicael Cancoriet crossed for Clermont in the final quarter of an hour but the late rally was insufficient to claim a first win in Ireland since 2014.
“We played some fantastic rugby to get to 30 points to not very many and against Clermont [that] was a testament to the way that we played,” Ulster head coach Dan McFarland said.
“The fact that in the last 10 to 15 minutes we sat on our laurels was for me as a coach very disappointing.”
Later, Vermeulen’s Springboks team-mate Raymond Rhule scored his third try in five games as La Rochelle, last year’s runners-up in both Europe and the Top 14, overcame Glasgow.
The Scottish outfit must wait for Montpellier’s result to see if they are to advance to the next round.
“It was about us tonight, I know Glasgow were playing for their lives but we were intent on putting on a good show,” La Rochelle director of rugby Ronan O’Gara told BT Sport.
“You’re going to have huge disappointments. We got to a final of the Top 14, we got to a final of European Cup, we’re going to keep coming back.
“I think we’re good enough tactically and technically [to win the Champions Cup] but it comes down to want really.”
Earlier, four-time winners Leinster swatted Bath aside with a 10-try, 64-7 victory at the Rec to book their place in the last 16.
Winger Jimmy O’Brien ran in four tries as the Irish province shredded the defence of the 1998 champions.
Bath were without 20 of their squad through injury or Covid and lost England flanker Sam Underhill after only 15 minutes when his head collided with Robbie Henshaw’s hip.
Elsewhere, Northampton Saints’ trip to Racing 92 on Sunday became the 12th of the 48 pool games to be impacted by Covid-19 with the Parisians handed victory due to virus cases in the visitors’ squad.
Holders Toulouse risk missing out on the knock-out rounds after their fixture with Cardiff, set for earlier on Saturday, was also cancelled with the Welsh region given the five match points.
The record five-time champions criticised the tournament organisers, European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), and said they would take legal action against the decision.
French Rugby Federation president and World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte sympathised with the double winners.
“I understand the anger of the players and the clubs,” Laporte tweeted.
“The decisions of EPCR are unsporting and disheartening,” he added.
On Sunday, Munster host Wasps and Stade Francais play Connacht with the results potentially impacting on Toulouse’s progress to defend their crown.