Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Tyrone Howe: Who cares how Ulster won at the Aviva?

Ulster fan Adam Brown from Saintfield at the Aviva Stadium
Ulster's Rory Best walks with his son after the Heineken Cup semi final match between Ulster and Edinburgh at Aviva Stadium, Dublin
An Ulster fan during the Heineken Cup Semi Final at the Aviva Stadium
Ulster's Stefan Terblanche celebrates victory over Edinburgh after Saturday's Heineken Cup Semi Final at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin
An Ulster fan during Saturday's Heineken Cup Semi Final at the Aviva Stadium
Ulster fans Harry and Robbie Cooper, eight-year-old twins at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Fans at The Botanic Inn, Belfast cheer as Ulster win Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final match against Edinburgh. Brother and sister Joeseph and Catherine McTaggart
Fans at The Botanic Inn, Belfast cheer as Ulster win Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final match against Edinburgh. Johnny Farrell, Harry Cleland and Mark Branigan
Ulster fans Matthew Davis, Aaron Wilkinson, Chris Beacom and Dave Johnston ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Ulster fans at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans Hannah McAdam and Rebecca Walker at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans at the Aviva Stadium during Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans at the Aviva Stadium during Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans at the Aviva Stadium during Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Sarah and Emma Lewis from Belfast
Ulster fans Adam Nathan Stewart and Matthew Thompson at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans Johnny and Michelle Dodds from Armagh during Saturday's Heineken Cup Semi Final at the Aviva Stadium
Ulster fans Simon Corry with his six year-old son William before Saturday's Heineken Cup Semi Final at the Aviva Stadium
Rachel Irwin from Holywood outside the Aviva Stadium
Ella Killeen and Anna Wheeler from Belfast outside the Aviva Stadium
Ulster fans Simon Andrew and Stuart Crozier through the glasses of Rachel Craig from Londonderry
Ulster fans at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans Ross Dunning, Jamie Friel and Leo Cassidy from Saintfield at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans from Armagh at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans Sam Owens and Jack Dickson at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans Chloe McIlwaine and Jennifer Swann from Larne at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans Chloe McIlwaine and Jennifer Swann from Larne at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster fans celebrate after the game
Ulster's Ruan Pienaar celebrates with fans after the game
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - Saturday 28th April 2012 - Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.Nearly 4500 Ulster rugby fans used TranslinkÕs special rugby train and coach services to travel to Dublin for the Heineken Cup semi-final today. It was a lively atmosphere at Belfast Central Station and Europa Buscentre as fans got ready to cheer on their team. Pictured are Kerry McDowell, Lynsey McDowell and Louise Topping from Glenoe in County Antrim at Central station in Belfast.
Ewan MacDonald and his daughter Elen with Ulster fans waiting on their train at Belfast Central Station
Ulster rugby fans Loraine and Sam Bell pictured in Belfast as they prepare to make the trip to watch Ulster clash with Edinburgh
Kathryn Graham and Neil McCullough at Central station in Belfast
Kerry McDowell, Lynsey McDowell and Louise Topping from Glenoe in County Antrim at Central Station in Belfast
Peter Croan, Chris McIlmurray and Glen Dugan from Newtownards at Central Station in Belfast
Kenny Calladine and Hilda Boyd from Belfast at Central Station
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - Saturday 28th April 2012 - Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.Nearly 4500 Ulster rugby fans used TranslinkÕs special rugby train and coach services to travel to Dublin for the Heineken Cup semi-final today. It was a lively atmosphere at Belfast Central Station and Europa Buscentre as fans got ready to cheer on their team. Pictured are Paula Clendinning, Julie Clendinning and Brian Clendinning from Crossgar at Central station in Belfast.
James Heyburn, Mathew Mitchell and Rory Cahoon from Helens Bay at Central Station in Belfast
Thomas Maxwell from Dungannon, Gavyn Anderson from Belfast and Andy Loughran from Belfast at Central Station
Paul and Jenny Irwin from Belfast at Central Station
Members of Ballynahinch Rugby Club at Central Station in Belfast
Brian McMaster, Karl Ludlow and Steven O'Connor at Central Station in Belfast.
Ulster rugby fans travelling to Dublin for today's Heineken Cup semi-final
Paul Cox from Newtownards at Central Station in Belfast.
Ulster fans wait on their train at Belfast Central train station as more than 2% of the population of Northern Ireland will be in Dublin this weekend to watch Ulster play in rugby's Heineken Cup semi-final
Ulster Rugby legend Simon Best with Ulster fans waiting on their train at Belfast Central train station
Ulster fans wait on their train at Belfast Central train station
Ulster Rugby legend Simon Best with Ulster fans Scott Shannon and Louis Lowry waiting on their train at Belfast Central Station
Carol Graham, Willie Graham, Hall Graham and Kate Graham from Parkgate in Antrim at Central Station in Belfast
Deborah Stringer and Graham McCormack from Belfast
Jane and Christopher Hughes from Belfast
John, Holly and Neill Carson from Belfast
Aaron Stewart and Catherine Bell from Belfast
Ryan Hogg, Stephen Craig,Sam Lindsay and Johny McCreish all from Newtownabbey
Carla Pearce from Newtownards
Alastair and Cameron Hooks from Belfast
Sam and Gerry Burns from Belfast
Ulster fans leave Belfast for Saturday's game at the Aviva Stadium in Dulbin
Ulster fans leave Belfast for Saturday's game at the Aviva Stadium in Dulbin
Sharon and Alison Mairs from Lisburn
Ulster fans leave Belfast for Saturday's game at the Aviva Stadium in Dulbin
Victoria Gibson and Claire Ogle from Dromore travel to the game on Saturday

Thank you Ruan Pienaar. While there were other major contributions on the Lansdowne Road turf last Saturday, the presence of the South African really was the difference between winning and losing.

Was this a game that Ulster could have lost? Absolutely. But there have been plenty of occasions this season where Ulster’s positive play has gone unrewarded or they have been dealt the misfortune of a refereeing error.

Over the course of the season one hopes that these factors even themselves out, but Ulster will have every reason to watch the video and wonder how they came out of the game with their noses in front.

Does it matter? Not one jot. Semi-finals are about winning. We have become so used to watching Munster and Leinster get to this stage that it has a certain surreal feel about it, but it is a magnificent achievement for the players and coaches.

It was like a trip down memory lane. Those who missed 1999 got a glimpse of the past. The colour, noise, atmosphere, intensity — the pageantry. For the players, however, it was business and oh how they tested our nerves.

Stuff the previous victories, we knew that it was going to be close, as that is the nature of semi-finals. In fact, the match was exactly as I feared. Within two minutes Edinburgh had exactly what they wanted — fast, frenetic and, above all, loose rugby.

They hardly kicked the ball out of play meaning that there were few set-piece opportunities from which Ulster could set a platform.

This lack of structure was the main way that Edinburgh were able to hurt Ulster. With nothing to lose, the ability to make those 50-50 passes and keep the ball alive almost worked. Ulster started slipping off tackles, then came up slowly or stood still on the defensive line and Edinburgh continually got across the gainline, recycled the ball and forced Ulster to scramble. But Ulster scrambled for their lives.

What undid Edinburgh was a combination of their own profligacy, certain refereeing decisions and an Ulster team that learned from the first half and went on to play the more controlled, disciplined and pressure rugby in the second 40 minutes.

To Ulster’s credit, the team regrouped, responded to the situation and returned to the pitch with a clear idea of what was necessary. Get more structure into the game and put pressure on Edinburgh’s skills by playing in their half of the pitch.

Ulster squeezed the Scots and inched their way to victory. Considering the level of difficulty and the pressure of the situation, Pienaar’s boot was nothing short of immaculate.

Maybe it is all a ruse from Ulster — make sure you enter the final as firm underdogs. For the players the only pressure now is to turn up at Twickenham and do justice to themselves, to the skill, physicality, organisation and mental strength within the team. Play close to their potential and they will have a chance. Of course, it will be incredibly difficult, but what do you expect from a Heineken Cup final.

In Leinster, they will face a complete team, yet they are not invincible. Having already seen off Munster, next on the list was always going to be Leinster. What better place to have a shot than a Heineken Cup final.

What is certain is that Ulster will be roared on by the greatest support in European, if not world rugby. This is now getting the rightful respect and acknowledgement that it deserves.

The nails have just under three weeks to grow back, the blood pressure has hopefully returned to a more normal state. But are you prepared to do it all again? You bet! If you can, get a ticket and head for Twickenham. Occasions like Saturday don’t come around too often. Heineken Cup finals are an even scarcer commodity.

These are special days.

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