Belfast Telegraph

Humphreys' revenge took sting out of record defeat

 

By Jonathan Bradley

For better, and indeed worse, Wasps' place in the Ulster Rugby record books is likely to last for quite a while yet.

While the pair haven't played each other for some 15 years in continental competition ahead of getting reacquainted for tonight's Champions Cup opener (7.45pm kick-off), they were familiar foes in the early days of European competition, facing each other six times, five of which were won by the then-London outfit.

Their first meeting back in September of 1997 was one that will stick in Ulster memories for all the wrong reasons, the 56-3 reverse at QPR's Loftus Road still the side's record European defeat.

At least able to salvage some comfort from the contest though, was Bryn Cunningham.

Now Ulster's Operations Director, back then he was just a 19-year-old full-back making his debut for the province.

"Is that what the score was?" he laughs when asked about the 53-point deficit.

"My memory of games, everyone will tell you, is awful. I remember three or four games from my whole career so I've maybe chosen to blank out the final score, but there's definitely parts that stick out.

"They were one of the big guns of European rugby back then and it was great to get my first official cap against a side like that. I'd played in a game against Richmond that hadn't counted as a debut just prior to that."

If tonight's game is seen as something of a toss-up, Cunningham notes that was certainly not the case for a young Ulster side that Saturday afternoon, Scottish international Kenny Logan's hat-trick just three of the eight tries the hosts ran in despite leading only 15-3 at half-time.

"At the time they certainly seemed quite star-studded, with Lawrence Dallaglio, Alex King, Kenny Logan in their team," reflects Cunningham who, like many of the squad that day, went on to win the European Cup just one season later.

"They had international regulars, whereas we had only a few boys with caps."

Also playing that day, and indeed hoisting the European Cup just 16 months later, was back-rower Tony McWhirter.

He at least had the privilege of exacting some measure of revenge in Ulster's only win against Wasps, a game forever remembered for the 37 points scored by David Humphreys, a mark that still stands as a European record to this day.

"An awful day, a real stinker," he recalls of the Belfast evening in 2001. "It was one of those typically loud European nights, everyone really pumped up by the sight of English visitors."

And while the visitors actually turned around 13-6 to the good, the second-half was the Humphreys show as Ulster ran out 42-19 winners.

"That's what you got with David," adds McWhirter.

"For that record to still be standing is great for him but for Ulster too. If it wasn't for Ronan O'Gara he'd still be right up there for a few more as well."

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