Former Boks star for Ulster
Ruan Pienaar (Gallo Images)
Dublin - South African scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar led 1999 champions Ulster into their first Heineken Cup final in 13 years on Saturday as the Irish downed plucky Edinburgh 22-19 in the semi-finals.
Pienaar scored 17 points, with a perfect six out of six kicks, and dictated most of the Irish side's crucial incursions against an Edinburgh team who paid a heavy price for committing 16 handling errors.
Ulster's reward is a May 19 final at Twickenham against either Clermont or defending champions Leinster, who meet in France on Sunday.
Pienaar, who went into the match having scored 54 points in the tournament this season, gave Ulster the lead with a 54-metre penalty in the sixth minute.
But Edinburgh fl-half Greg Laidlaw, with 82 points going into the semi-final, replied with two confident kicks of his own as the Scots went into a 6-3 lead after 12 minutes.
Ulster then grabbed the only try of the opening half on the 15-minute mark when South African Number 8 Pedrie Wannenburg peeled off the back of a scrum to score from five metres with Pienaar adding the extras for 10-6.
Edinburgh, the first Scottish team to play in a European Cup semi-final, refused to buckle, taking the game to the Irish side who felt the pressure when fullback Stefan Terblanche was yellow-carded for a petulant punch.
Cool-headed Pienaar, however, eased the stress with another penalty for a 13-6 lead before Laidlaw deservedly kept the Scots in the tie with his third penalty of the half in injury-time after Ulster lock Stephen Ferris was penalised.
Laidlaw quickly cut the deficit to 13-12 five minutes into the second period, before Pienaar illustrated his international class.
A chip forward immediately put the Scots back under the cosh and they had to hold up lock Dan Tuohy and Wannenburg in quick succession on their try-line to keep the Irish at bay.
But Pienaar was soon slotting over his fourth successful kick for 16-12 which soon became 19-12 with another perfect pot through the uprights.
Edinburgh, dogged by more errors, conceded another penalty in the 75th minute when their scrum buckled under Ulster's superior physicality and Pienaar was again perfect with his sixth successful kick of the tie.
From that point, there was no way back for Edinburgh who had set the tournament alight by stunning four-time champions Toulouse 19-14 in the quarter-finals.
But they did have the consolation of grabbing a last-minute converted try from replacement Jim Thompson.