Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie had challenged his internationals to step up to the mark against Ulster, but despite Callum Gibbins’ two tries they fell to defeat at Kingspan Stadium.
This loss was also a blow to rivals Edinburgh, as they missed out on the chance to secure a Pro14 quarter-final spot ahead of the final round, when the two Scottish sides meet in the 1872 Cup decider at Murrayfield next weekend.
Glasgow trailed 16-10 at the interval, and despite two scores from Gibbins, either side of half-time, they couldn’t stem the flow.
The Warriors had already clinched top spot in Conference A with two games remaining but Ulster dominated early, and were led by their scrum-half John Cooney, who scored a fifth-minute penalty after Alex Dunbar was pinged for not releasing on the ground.
Glasgow found it difficult to find a way into the game, falling further behind in the 13th minute.
Ulster piled on the pressure and Cooney was on hand to score again. This time it was off the back of the scrum and the former Connacht Pro12 winner sniped, with some poor Glasgow defence allowing him to dive across the try-line.
Ulster No.8 Jean Deysel left the field injured in the 16th minute. Glasgow pounced and stand-off Finn Russell scored their opening penalty in the 19th minute.
The visitors were thrilled to be within a score at the end of the opening quarter, but it was to get better. The home side showed some dreadful defence as Fraser Brown barged his way through the Ulster cover, before he exploited a two on one, and off-loaded to Gibbins who scored unopposed.
That try came in the 22nd minute and Russell’s conversion tied the game up for the first time. Glasgow went in search of another score straight away and ex-Ulster winger Tommy Seymour tackled Charles Piutau into touch.
But Ulster survived the onslaught, as Scotland’s Calcutta Cup hero Huw Jones departed with a head injury, replaced by Nick Grigg.
Cooney set up one final attack for Ulster at the end of the first half, and it was Grigg who got across to tackle Luke Marshall into touch.
But Ulster won a penalty with Glasgow offside in midfield, and Cooney scored the resultant kick. That should have been the final play of the first-half, but Ulster recovered possession, worked their way up-field again, and Cooney made it 16-10 off the kicking tee.
Cooney had scored all 16 points for Ulster in the first half but he was replaced by Paul Marshall due to a head injury assessment at half-time.
Gibbins dived over for Glasgow after a rolling maul seven minutes into the second half. But then Ulster took complete control again.
Tries followed in the 55th and 61st minutes from Nick Timoney and Sean Reidy respectively, and Ulster got their bonus point when Timoney crashed over for his second try in the 83rd minute.