It is said you don’t miss things until they are gone. And, like a depositor in an Iceland bank, Ulster supporters are painfully coming to terms with the knowledge that their side’s share value has fallen to such an extent that beating the biggest names in European rugby at Ravenhill is a thing of the past.
At least for a while.
Stade Francais may not have won on their four previous visits to Ravenhill, but on Saturday their revenge was sweet as Ewen McKenzie’s side underscored their potential as serious contenders for the Heineken Cup this season and leave Ulster bottom of Pool Four.
Tries by Guillaume Bousses and Dimitri Szarzewski, drop-goals by Juan Martin Hernandez (2) and Lionel Beauxis, who also landed a penalty and two conversions, left Ulster’s European Cup dreams in tatters. Matt Williams’ side were restricted to a try by Paddy Wallace and a penalty and conversion by Niall O’Connor, and with little time to lift themselves and bind wounds, Ulster can expect little respite at Harlequins on Saturday.
Aside from a strangely flat opening from the home side, who, to be fair, were pinned back in their 22 with superb precision and execution of the kicking of Stade Francais’s out-half Juan Martin Hernandez, there was plenty of effort and commitment from Ulster.
And if Ulster had scored during a purple patch before half-time, when Bryn Cunningham, who also impressed all afternoon, and Ryan Caldwell were both held up over the line, Stade might have come under increasing pressure in the second period when Ulster again created a number of clear cut chances.
But this line of thinking ignores over-riding sense that Stade, who had cracked under the white heat of Ulster teams of old on their four previous visits to Ravenhill, had completed the job on Saturday without getting out of third gear.
There was no breath-taking élan from the French. No unstoppable momentum.
But what they did possess was the power up front and two world class kickers in Hernandez and Lionel Beauxis, who continued with their twin-pronged drop-goal assault that has characterised their romp to the top of the French Championship, and took the game away from Ulster before the home side had been able to land any significant punches.
The only plus for Ireland coach Declan Kidney, on his second visit to Ravenhill this season, was a sparkling performance by Wallace.
His second half try — winning the race to a chip by Niall O’Connor — was well-deserved but by then the game was already up for Ulster.
Stade, playing with the benefit of a stiff breeze in the first-half, had already established a commanding 16-0 by the interval largely thanks to the precision kicking of Hernandez.
Hernandez’s sleight of hand also created the try for Bousses to silence the Ravenhill crowd.
A penalty by Niall O’Connor gave Ulster a foothold but when Szarzewski touched down, Beauxis converted and then banged over another drop-goal to leave Ulster in their wake.
Ulster: Tries: P Wallace Cons: N O’Connor Pens: N O’Connor
Stade Francais: Tries: G Bousses, Szarzewski Cons: L Beauxis (2) Pens: L Beauxis Drops: J Martin Hernandez (2)
Ulster: B Cunningham; C Schifcofske (Steinmetz 44, I Humphreys 56)), D Cave, P Wallace, A Trimble; N O’Connor, I Boss (C Willis 49); T Court (J Fitzpatrick 49), R Best, BJ Botha (N Brady 65), E O’Donoghue (C Del Fava 57), R Caldwell, S Ferris (M McCullough 68), K Dawson, R Diack.
Stade Francais: L Beauxis, J Arias, G Bousses (M Bastareaud 33), B Liebenberg, J Saubade, J M Hernandez, N Oelschig; R Roncero (S Marconnet 44), D Szarzewski (M Blin 62), D Attoub, A Marchois, S Taylor, M. Bergamasco (J Leguizamon 47), P Rabadan, S Parisse.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)