Clermont, Toulouse, Racing 92, and Exeter Chiefs joined Leinster in the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup over the weekend, while title holders Saracens kept their hopes of qualifying alive with a 22-15 win over Ospreys.
Trailing 10-9 at half-time, Clermont dominated the second half against Ulster. Tries from Alivereti Raka and George Moala secured a 29-13 win and ensured the Top 14 powerhouses go top of Pool 3.
"It was our hardest game this season," Clermont full-back Nick Abendanon told BT Sport.
"Ulster are a fantastic outfit, they were pretty up for this match."
A thrilling game in Glasgow saw Exeter number eight Matt Kvesic scoring two tries, the second of which was the bonus-point fourth try that guaranteed they would top Pool 2.
It did not all go the Chiefs' way though, as Glasgow bounced back to tie the game 31-31.
Four-time champions Toulouse also eased their way into the quarter-finals with a 21-7 win against Connacht in Galway.
On Sunday, Racing 92 outlasted a strong Munster team 39-22 to punch their ticket to the last eight.
- Clinical Clermont -
Ulster dominated the first half at the Stade Marcel Michelin in terms of territory and possession but led Clermont by just a point at half-time.
In-form Ulster scrum-half John Cooney and Clermont stand-off Camille Lopez traded early penalties before props Jack McGrath and Marty Moore combined to send Cooney through for a try under the posts.
Ulster right wing Robert Baloucoune had to make a crunching tackle to deny full-back Isaia Toeava, but the pressure paid off after 48 minutes when Raka - left out of Fabien Galthie's first France squad - reached out for the line.
The video replay suggested ball had just brushed the white paint of the tryline and the try was awarded.
With Ulster chasing the game, Moala crashed over for Clermont's second try which sealed the win.
"In the second half the hard work paid off; the forwards got on top and that gave us a stranglehold that they couldn't live with," said Abendanon.
Ulster can still qualify if they beat Bath in Belfast next weekend.
- Exeter, Toulouse sweat -
The Chiefs needed just a point at Scotstoun to qualify, but had to work hard for their draw.
Three tries each in a pulsating first half sent the teams into the break at 24-24. Exeter then set up camp on the Warriors' line and were duly rewarded when Kvesic touched down to secure the bonus point.
Glasgow hit back with a try from Fiji's Niko Matawalu to tie up the scores. Exeter almost snatched it at the death, but Stuart Hogg's 60-meter penalty bounced back off the bar.
"We came up here and knew we had a job to do. We will take the draw and we're through," said Kvesic.
Glasgow have 12 points and are now unlikely to make it through.
"We've drawn a game we should have won," said Warriors' fly-half Adam Hastings.
🎥| Catch up with highlights from Saturday's 31 - 31 draw with Exeter Chiefs at Scotstoun pic.twitter.com/6GwN3dx5ch— Glasgow Warriors (@GlasgowWarriors) January 13, 2020
"In patches we are as good as any team out there but we let them off. You just can't do that against a team like Exeter."
Toulouse also had a tougher ride than they may have expected, with Irish province Connacht holding them 7-7 at half-time.
Second half tries from hooker Julien Marchand and centre Pita Ahki, who pounced on a charge-down from close range, gave them some breathing space.
They were made to sweat at the end when they were down to 13 men with Yoann Huget (yellow) and Zach Holmes (red) both off for dangerous tackles, but held on for their fifth win of the pool stages.
- Racing, Saracens prevail -
Racing were made to work for it against a spirited Munster side needing a win to keep their hopes of advancing alive.
📽️ | Racing 92 v Munster— Racing 92 (@racing92) January 13, 2020
🏉Teddy Thomas x2, Virimi Vakatawa, Juan Imhoff
👟Teddy Iribaren (3 pénalités), Maxime Machenaud (2 transfos)
= Victoire ET Qualification 🔥
#R92vMUN #RacingFamily #MondayMotivation pic.twitter.com/saJ6HqvtDS
The two sides traded blows for much of the match, but in the final quarter Racing found another gear, running in three late tries for the 39-22 win.
The win locks up a last eight spot for the Parisians, but if they want to host a quarterfinal, they will need a strong performance next weekend against defending champions Saracens.
Saracens rested their England players and struggled to overcome an Ospreys side which was already out of the running with just one point from their previous four matches.
Sarries' Welsh international prop Rhys Carre was sent off after just four minutes for a 'no arms' tackle, but the 14 who remained were more than a match for the side without a win since October 12.
🗣️ “We’re a tight group and games like that only make us even tighter. It was full of effort, full of fight and full of composure."@JacksonWray, like Wiggy, was delighted with how the group came together on Saturday to defeat Ospreys. ⚫️🔴https://t.co/33yeLLG14J— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) January 14, 2020
Manu Vunipola, the 19-year-old cousin of England internationals Billy and Mako, kicked four penalties and converted Alex Lewington's try in the 51st minute.
Later, Gloucester claimed a bonus point overcoming Montpellier 29-6 in Pool 5, but will have to win at Toulouse next week if they are to have any hope of progressing.
© Agence France-Presse