Big Justin still Fitz the bill for Ulster
Justin Fitzpatrick continues to defy the passing years with the greatest of ease.
Ten years on from Ulster’s European Cup heroics he’s still strutting his stuff in the front row.
Reflecting on a season that draws to a close in Llanelli tonight with Ulster’s last Magners League game, he said: “There have been a number of highs. We waited a long time to beat Munster in Thomond.
“When you look at those kind of results in the context of a difficult year that we had come through before, that was very promising.
“We just need to get a wee bit more consistency. It’s still a very young side and I see a bright future.
“As for the past season I would say there were disappointments, but these were outweighed by the plusses with boys coming through to a new level and stepping up to the mark, competing successfuly against some of the best teams in Europe,” he said.
It’s easy to forget just how varied Fitzpatrick’s career has been — and he’s not finished yet.
During four seasons with the London Irish 1st XV he played under some of the top coaches in the sport, making his competitive debut under England’s World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward followed by Willie Anderson, Dick Best and Hika Reid.
Ulster’s 1999 European Cup success still tops his list of achievements.
He said: “It was a fabulous achievement. Not too many people ever achieve that.
“Don’t forget we beat both Stade Francais and Toulouse along the way.
“Winning my first cap in South Africa was another highpoint 10 years ago.
“I’ve been lucky to have been coached by some of the top names in rugby as well as playing with the game’s leading players.”
He’s equally at home either at tight or loose head though he has a preference for the latter.
Two years spent in France with Castres is another notable entry in a varied and highly impressive CV.
Qualified to play for Ireland through his parents, he still has another year to run on his contract with Ulster.
In an age where real characters are fast disappearing, it will be a real shame when the time comes for Fitzy to eventually hang up his boots.
For Ulster's last game of the Magners League at the Scarlets hooker Nigel Brady will captain the side as Rory Best is ruled out of the match with a thigh strain.
Regular scrum half Isaac Boss, who played full back against Connacht, will again wear the number 15 jersey with Clinton Schifcofske on the bench.
Declan Fitzpatrick starts at tight head due to BJ Botha's neck injury, while Ian Whitten comes into the midfield to partner Darren Cave in the absence of the injured Paddy Wallace.
ULSTER: I Boss, T Nagusa, D Cave, I Whitten, S Danielli, N O’Connor, C Willis; B Young, N Brady (capt), D Fitzpatrick, E O'Donoghue, R Caldwell, M McCullough, C Henry, Robbie Diack. Replacements: N Hanna, J Fitzpatrick, C Del Fava, W Faloon, I Humphreys, M McCrea, C Schifcofske.