Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin saluted his players following the achievement of the second of their season’s ambitions.
Before a ball was kicked they cited a place in the last eight of the Heineken Cup and the last four of the Magners League as their bottom lines.
They have achieved both with last night’s 20-13 victory over Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade completing the second leg of that particular double.
McLaughlin did not allow his delight to detract from or diminish his dignity. Ever-gracious in defeat as well as victory he had warm words for the side Ulster had just beaten.
“Dragons deserve great credit for the way they played. They made it very tough, just as we knew they would. We always said coming here would be a real test and it was,” McLaughlin said.
Dragons’ forward coach Danny Wilson was equally generous in his praise of Ulster.
“They came here with a very definite game plan and they played with real efficiency in the first half. They put us under pressure in the right places, closed us down, made space for themselves and generally proved very difficult opponents.
“They were playing for a top four place and that showed in their attitude. There was a real hunger about them in that first half,” he ventured.
McLaughlin did not disagree with the hosts’ assessment of his team.
“We executed our game plan to perfection in the first half. We’re a bit disappointed, I suppose, that we didn’t pick up the fourth try which would have given us a bonus but in the second half the Dragons kept coming at us.
“They stretched us, they tested our defence and we came out on top. I was very pleased with that outcome.”
He admitted that he and the Ulster backroom staff had kept themselves up to date with what was happening elsewhere on a night when results were vital to five clubs in the chase for three remaining semi-final places.
“We knew exactly what was going on in those other matches. There was a lot of excitement all over the place tonight because there was a lot at stake,” he said.
“But for us there really was one focus. We came here knowing what we had to do and intent on doing it. We have done what we came to do so I am delighted for everyone concerned with that.
“Last year we came here for the first match of the season, full of hope and full of confidence and we left with our tails between our legs. Tonight showed how much we have progressed.
“We have come a long way this year and it’s not over yet.”