Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 29 March 2015

Ulster Rugby has arrived

Telegraph Sport: where the debate starts

Ulster's Ravenhill ground
Ulster's Ravenhill ground

A Tele Sports Desk sage of old used his own simple yardstick to measure a sport's popularity.

When you see the odds up on the bookmakers' boards, you'll know that sport has arrived, he'd assert. His philosophy being punters don't part with their hard-earned in a flutter on obscure or minority sports, watched by the proverbial two men and a dog, nor do the bookies consider them worth laying. The smart money follows the crowd.

To the less cynical among us, ticket sales seemed a more exact science.

I don't know what price Ulster are to defeat Saracens in next month's Heineken Rugby Cup quarter-final. But I do know from the stampede to secure tickets at any price, that Ulster Rugby has arrived.

When demand exceeds supply, you've got a very saleable product indeed.

The transformation of Ulster Rugby from a few hundred watching inter-pro games a few decades ago to a 17,000 European Cup sellout at Ravenhill next month is truly the biggest modern day success story of Northern Ireland sport.

Top brass, I know, share the disappointment of the many more who have followed the team to Twickenham and the Aviva and now unable to secure tickets for a home game.

Conversely, were it not for their investment in the team, stadium and development of the game in Ulster there'd be no-one to lock out.

Full houses are the form guide in any sport and you wouldn't bet against the trend continuing at Ravenhill. Rather than reproach themselves over the numbers regrettably left out, the blazers should look to the 17,000 packed in as evidence of a job well done and consider themselves up and arrived.

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