Heineken Cup: Proud McLaughlin happy to share plaudits after biggest day of his life
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin last night made sure the praise was shared round among the players and supporters following the 22-16 victory over Munster in Limerick.
With Ulster now looking forward to a semi-final date with Edinburgh at the Aviva Stadium, McLaughlin — whose tenure as coach finishes at the end of the season despite him having taken Ulster further in Europe than anyone since 1999 — was keen to ensure that all of those involved were recognised for their contributions.
“It’s probably the biggest day of my life so far in rugby terms,” the modest Ulster coach said. “To be 19-0 after 25 minutes was a dream. We played brilliantly, it was our game plan personified.
“We knew that Munster were going to come at us and they did. It was 19-10 at half-time and Johann (Muller) said in the dressing room that if we’d been given that at the start we would have taken it.
“We knew after half-time it was going to be another battle and we’d talked about that all week as well.
“All credit to the guys on the pitch, they were magnificent today. And I think it’s very important to mention not only the players but also the impact and the energy we gained from our fans in the stadium. That was outstanding,” he said, in salutation of the 6,500 Ulster supporters who made the long trip to Limerick.
“What we’ve tried to do in Ulster these past three years is build that self-belief,” he said. “We knew we had what was necessary in the tank. We believed that. And I think
all credit to the lads, they showed that today.
“We’re alive in two competitions. We’ve got to go to Connacht this week to keep our PRO12 hopes alive and that’s our next target,” he added, reinforcing the fact that Ulster’s feet are firmly on the ground.
Skipper Muller, looking physically drained, introduced a note of humour by saying: “To be 19 points up against a great side like Munster, you’ve got to do something really special to lose it — and we nearly did with a yellow card and them chipping away and really playing some great rugby in that middle 40 minutes.
“But hats off to the guys for coming back and making sure that we got the victory. At the end of the day that’s a special thing, a special victory, I think, for everybody.
“We’ve learnt so much over the last three years, especially from away games against teams like Clermont and Leicester this year — being in those games but still losing them by making stupid mistakes,” he stressed.
“The experience that we got from those games and through those losses away from home really helped us a hell of a lot out there today.
“We talked about that at half-time. We said that 12 months ago we were in exactly the same boat. We were ahead, but then we let it slip in the second half.
“We made sure that we didn’t go down that same route again. It’s experience; that’s what rugby does — the more you play it and the more you get into situations like this the more you learn.
“It’s great that we actually took it on the chin in the last couple of years and then made sure that we didn’t repeat the same mistakes again as we made in the last two years.”