With seven days left until Ulster produce their seventh straight win we’ve chosen our favourite seven Ulster games where Ulster produced the results – largely against the odds!
Saturday 9th January 1999. Ulster 33 Stade Francais 27
Who could ever forget the day Ulster saved the Heineken Cup in what was perhaps the greatest game they ever played? There were 20,000 packed into Ravenhill though probably more than 100,000 now claim to be there. Ulster took on the French giants at their own game and beat them purely by playing better rugby.
English clubs had boycotted the Heineken Cup in a power play where they felt destined to be calling the shots in years to come but they must have hung their heads in shame and embarrassment wondering how they could have passed on an occasion like this as European Rugby came of age at Ravenhill. ” Up yours, look what you’re missing”, was the message sent to the boardrooms of the Premiership clubs.
Ulster’s scrum was getting mashed but they stuck at it and the boot of Mason kept them in the game bagging 20 points in all, but what everyone who was there will remember was “that try” from Humphreys. 10 seconds from start to finish was all it took to change Ulster’s history, 10 glorious seconds that seemed to stretch out for minutes as Humphreys took the game by the scruff of the neck.
Lumbered with scrappy possession inside his own 22 the Humphreys chipped Lombard with such precision that wing Sheldon Coulter didn’t break stride as he fielded the ball, drew the defence and returned the ball to the onrushing Humphreys, who pinned back his ears and ran fully 65 metres to the right corner.
In Humphreys own words,
Coming as it did within three minutes of the restart, it said to Stade Francais: `You may think you’ve got this one in the bag, but we can play some rugby too, you know.’ I’ll never forget the noise from the crowd, which was phenomenal. From there on in, I was able to say to the team: `Just imagine how it will be if we win. It’s got to be worth fighting for’. And we fought, every inch of the way. I’m really very proud, not least because we won the game by playing more rugby than the opposition. Sure, I stuck the ball in the air on occasions, but that was just to get the crowd going. If you look at the match dispassionately, we played some very imaginative stuff out there.
You know, when I close my eyes I can still see every one of those ten seconds!
Ulster Scorers: Tries: McKinty, Humphreys. Cons: Mason. Pens: Mason 5. Drop Goals: Mason, Humphreys.
Ulster Team: Simon Mason, Sheldon Coulter, Jan Cunningham, Jonny Bell, Andy Park, David Humphreys (Capt), Andy Matchett, Justin Fitzpatrick, Allan Clarke, Rab Irwin (Gary Leslie), Mark Blair, Gary Longwell, Stephen McKinty,Tony McWhirter (Derek Topping), Andy Ward.
Friday 5th October 2001. Ulster 42 Wasps 19
Ulster’s first win over English opposition at Ravenhill featured four of the current senior management team but is best remembered for a virtuoso second half performance from David Humphreys who finished the game with a 37 point haul including the full house of try, conversion, penalties and four spectacular drop goals.
Humphreys’ personal haul is a record for Heineken Cup rugby.
Playing into a near gale Ulster turned round seven points down with the score reading 6 – 13 but after the break Humphreys took control playing the conditions with unbelievable expertise roared on by the 10,000 crowd that watched the second half unfold in delirious disbelief.
Though Wasps managed to score two penalties in the second half my recollection was of wave after wave of scores in Ulster’s favour. Bang, bang, two penalties from Humphreys then his first drop goal, a gloriously struck 40 yarder, putting Ulster into the lead.
Wasps Logan hit back with his third penalty, but Humphreys went to work again with two more beautifully struck dropped goals followed by a try under the posts after charging down a chip ahead.
Logan kicked a fourth penalty for Wasps but still the points deluge continued from Ulster and Humphreys. A try from Howe converted by Humphreys then another penalty and finally a magnificent fourth dropped-goal. The stuff of legends. We were not worthy!
Ulster Scorers: Tries: Humphreys, Howe. Cons: Humphreys. Pens: Humphreys 6. Drop Goals: Humphreys 4.
Ulster Team: Paddy Wallace, James Topping, Shane Stewart, Jonny Bell, Tyrone Howe, David Humphreys, Neil Doak, Justin Fitzpatrick, Paul Shields, Simon Best, Jeremy Davidson (Mark Blair), Gary Longwell, Tony McWhirter, Andy Ward, Russell Nelson.
Saturday 27th December 2003. Edinburgh 21 Ulster 27
Ulster claimed the inaugural Celtic Cup, their first trophy since the European Cup triumph of 1999, and it was the 3-4000 fanatical supporters who braved hail, snow, ferry delays and treacherous road conditions that carried the day. The noise and passion coming from the crowd saw Ulster hang on in an incredibly tense second half as a late Edinburgh surge threatened to overturn a half-time Ulster lead of 21-0.
With 17,000 supporters crammed into the East Stand of the massive Murrayfield the match had a home fixture feel for Ulster so exuberant were the travelling support dominating the host crowd and sending them homeward to think again!
Edinburgh played the better rugby but Ulster just wanted to win this one and they set about the home side with a beautifully crude performance that bludgeoned Edinburgh out of the game in the first half.
The sleet throughout the game suited Ulster perfectly and again Humphreys played the conditions to perfection with Ulster kicking and hacking their way up field for both tries as a shell-shocked Edinburgh bumbled and fumbled in their attempts to play their way out of danger.
Neil Best went over for the first and Rowan Frost for the second with Humphreys adding three penalties and a conversion in the frenetic first half and even though Edinburgh hit back, with three tries in their 21 point haul in the second half, Humphreys kept Ulster in front with two further pens.
The ferries rocked that night as the cold, tired, wet but elated support made their way home.
Ulster Scorers: Tries: N Best, Frost Cons: Humphreys. Pens: Humphreys 5.
Ulster Team: Paddy Wallace, James Topping (Adam Larkin), Shane Stewart, Paul Steinmetz, Tyrone Howe, David Humphreys, Neil Doak, Robbie Kempson, Matt Sexton (Paul Shields), Simon Best (Rod Moore), Rowan Frost, Matt Mustchin, Matt McCullough), Andy Ward (Captain), Neil Best (Warren Brosnihan), Roger Wilson.
Sunday 11th January 2004. Ulster 33 Leicester 0
The pride of England were trussed up like turkeys and sent hobbling home on their wobbly chariots after a four try blitz from Ulster secured the bonus points in this Heineken Cup game. The ironic refrains of “Swing Low” rubbed salt into the wound as the backbone of England’s World Cup winning side was ripped apart by one of the most complete forward displays ever witnessed at Ravenhill.
The pre-match build up was dominated by the Sunday kick off with protesters outside the ground threatening damnation for our eternal souls but it was the English visitors who felt the heat as, bristling with intent, the Ulster forwards provided a righteous platform which allowed Humphreys to drive the team forward with divine kicking.
The wind blew and the sun shone in the faces of the opponents as Ulster chalked up two ties from Andy Ward and one from Tyrone Howe in an exhilarating first half. Humphreys added two conversions and three penalties for Ulster to race into a 28 – 0 lead and as the teams turned round the expectation was of Ulster holding on in the face of the expected Leicester fight back.
However it was Ulster that bagged the bonus at the start of the second half with Paddy Wallace sending Shane Stewart clear which to the delight of the capacity 12,300-crowd put Ulster on top of the group.
Leicester brought out World Cup captain Johnston but it was too little too late and Ulster romped home to the strains of the English Rugby standard!
Ulster Scorers: Tries: Stewart, Howe, Ward 2. Cons: Humphreys 2. Pens: Humphreys 3.
Ulster Team: Paddy Wallace, James Topping, Shane Stewart (Adam Larkin), Paul Steinmetz, Tyrone Howe, David Humphreys, Neil Doak, Robbie Kempson, Matt Sexton, Simon Best, Matt Mustchin (Warren Brosnihan), Rowan Frost, Andy Ward, Neil Best (Capt), Roger Wilson.
Saturday 21st January 2006. Treviso 26 Ulster 43
This may be a strange match to feature in the top seven of all Ulster games but this highly enjoyable romp in the sun was the start of a seven game winning run that took Ulster through to a draw against Llanelli and a win at Swansea that saw them lift the 2006 Magners League.
Despite Ulster scoring six tries, three from Andrew Maxwell, two from Andrew Trimble and one from Paddy Wallace this game was memorable chiefly for the party atmosphere throughout from the 800 travelling fans in the paltry 2,500 crowd.
With nothing at stake in this final game in the Heineken group the Ulster fans were there to party and good food and cheap, oh so cheap, wine helped set the scene with the Hounds of Ulster, in one of their finest moments, leading the singing and dancing in the stands for the 80 minutes and more as both teams chipped in with 10 tries between them.
Paul Steinmetz, standing in at kicking duty for an injured David Humphreys, contributed five conversions and a penalty as Ulster kept the score board ticking over at steady rate, but by mid way through the second half most people’s attention had turned to the conga lines in the stands as the Ulster fans partied like it was January 1999!
Ulster Scorers: Tries: Maxwell (3), Trimble (2), Wallace. Cons: Steinmetz (5). Pen: Steinmetz.
Ulster Team: Tommy Bowe, James Topping, Andrew Trimble, Paul Steinmetz, Andrew Maxwell, Adam Larkin, Isaac Boss, Justin Fitzpatrick, Nigel Brady, Bryan Young, Justin Harrison (Captain), Matt McCullough, Neil Best, Stephen Ferris, Roger Wilson, Paul Shields, Rod Moore, Rowan Frost, Neil McMillan, Kieran Campbell, Paddy Wallace, Jonny Bell
Friday 26th May 2006. Ospreys 17 Ulster 19.
Didn’t actually get to this game having gambled on the trophy being lifted the previous week at Llanelli, so I had to settle for watching this nerve-racking encounter in the Eagle Bar, Larne and boy oh boy was it tense!
The jubilation was only marginally less however as we were off our feet and dancing round the bar when David Humphreys slotted his 40 metre drop goal which went in off both posts, with only minutes remaining to win the game.
Despite Ulster being in charge for much of the game it looked as though the chance had gone when late try by Ospreys Jason Spice, and conversion from Gavin Henson made the scores 17-16, and at that stage Leinster would have been crowned champions.
However up stepped Humphreys with his glorious drop taking his total to 14 points on the night to add to Matt McCullough earlier try, and that proved enough to seal the title and cue the celebrations.
Justin Harrison lifted the trophy in the absence of captain Simon Best who missed this crucial game after breaking his ankle the previous week in the draw at Llanelli Scarlets.
Harrison and Mark McCall both acknowledged that the Ulster supporters “had been brilliant all season”, and the Ravenhill Roar was in evidence throughout the match thanks to the fans that had got their travel arrangements right, with even Boys on Tour getting to the game on time!
Ulster Scorers: Tries: McCullough. Cons: Humphreys. Pens: Humphreys (3). Drop Goals: Humphreys.
Ulster Team: Bryn Cunningham, Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Maxwell, David Humphreys, Isaac Boss (Kieran Campbell), Justin Fitzpatrick, Rory Best, Bryan Young, Justin Harrison, Matt McCullough, Neil Best, Stephen Ferris (Neil McMillan), Roger Wilson.
Saturday 3rd January 2009. Munster 11 Ulster 37
Ulster inflicted Munster’s heaviest defeat in the Magners League on this glorious Saturday evening at Thomond Park and oh how we enjoyed it!
Matt Williams side produced a superb victory, scooping the four try bonus point just shortly after the start of the second half, stunning Munster and some 26,000 supporters in a sold out Thomond Park. What made this game particularly enjoyable was we watched it from posh seats surrounded by Munster player’s friends and family thanks to a couple of tickets from Justin Fitzpatrick!
First half tries from Paddy Wallace, Darren Cave and Mark McCrea helped Ulster to a 22-6 lead at half-time before Tom Court went over early in the second half to bag the bonus point. Ulster’s victory was well and truly beyond doubt by the time Andrew Trimble got on the end of Ian Humphreys’ kick to space and beat Howlett to the line for the fifth and final try.
Ulster out-half Ian Humphreys simply had the match of his life, everything he tried came off and he bossed the game from start to finish, just as he had done two seasons previously with Leicester in the Heineken Cup.
Partly because of where we were sitting and partly because the result was so unexpected, but mostly because of the fantastic rugby that Ulster played, I must admit that I’ve never enjoyed beating a team so much – we just couldn’t believe it and filled with devilment and mischief we danced, cheered and hollered while those around us tutted and muttered and left early!
After waving the Ulster team off the pitch we retired to the bar behind our seats – only to find it strangely empty!
Ulster Scorers: Tries: McCrea, Cave, Wallace, Court, Trimble. Cons: Humphreys (3). Pens: Humphreys (2).
Ulster Team: Clinton Schifcoske, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Timoci Nagusa, Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss, Tom Court, Nigel Brady, BJ Botha, Matt McCullough, Ed O’Donoghue, Stephen Ferris, Kieran Dawson (Capt), Robbie Diack, Stuart Philpott, Justin Fitzpatrick, Filo Paulo, David Pollock, Paul Marshall, Paul Steinmetz, Mark McCrea.
Well, that’s our seven but I’m sure I’ve missed some of yours! Let us know your favourite game below.