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More and more fans are now proudly standing up for the Ulstermen

By Niall Crozier

Ulster season-tickets sales have reached an all-time high.

By midweek, a record 10,015 had been sold and that represents an increase of almost 3,000 on the 2013-14 total which in itself had been a best-ever figure.

Had this growth been as a result of Ulster gathering trophies, even then it would be quite remarkable. But given that they last won silverware in 2006, the expansion of Ulster's fan-base is nothing short of phenomenal.

Two weeks ago when Ulster lined out against Exeter Chiefs in what was their first pre-season friendly of 2014-15, the attendance at the re-named Kingspan Stadium was 13,542.

Exeter's Gareth Steenson afterwards expressed his total amazement at the size of the crowd for what was a warm-up game, witness the fact that Ulster used 19 replacements.

The Ulster exile, making his first visit to the stadium as a professional, enthused: "I don't recognise the place; it's completely different to what I remember. The facilities are fantastic now.

"It was a great atmosphere considering it was a pre-season game and to see the amount of support Ulster had out there tonight was phenomenal."

And based on the strength of Ulster's support, Steenson forecast: "They're only going to get better and better."

In the PRO12, only Glasgow Warriors can boast comparable year upon year growth – and even then that must be considered in context.

Yes, the Scots have managed a 70 per cent increase in three seasons but, in view of the fact that their starting point was a mere 1,582 season-ticket holders in 2012-13, the attainment of a total of 2,697 by the start of this week underlines the gulf between Ulster and the Gregor Townsend-coached Scotstoun outfit, who were beaten finalists in last term's PRO12 final.

Traditionally Leinster have been the pace-setters off the pitch as well as on it, with their season-ticket holders numbering 12,500.

Again, though, that must be viewed in context; Dublin's population is vastly bigger than that of Belfast – some 1.7million compared to 295,000.

In addition, Leinster have been annual collectors of silverware for some time. Small wonder, then, that they draw sizeable crowds to their RDS home.

However, it is worth noting that when they moved from Dublin 4 out to Dublin 24 for last Saturday afternoon's pre-season friendly against Ulster, a mere 4,000 bothered to show up at Tallaght Stadium.

Further proof of the Ulster supporters' loyalty came when tickets for the European Rugby Champions' Cup Belfast clash with holders, Toulon, went on sale four days ago, they sold out in little over one hour, which means almost all of the crowd of 18,000 in Kingspan Stadium will be standing up for the Ulster men on October 25.

Ulster season-tickets range from £205 to £480 for adults and £105 to £145 for children – at least 20 per cent less than paying on a per-match basis. In addition, season-ticket holders are entitled to priority bookings for Guinness PRO12 play-offs and European Rugby Champions Cup quarter, semi and final matches in the event of Ulster qualifying, plus priority booking for away fixtures.

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