Belfast Telegraph

Counting down Ulster's 10 most memorable European games as they prepare to hit 150 against Clermont

Where does the famous 1999 victory rank in our list of memorable European games for Ulster?
Where does the famous 1999 victory rank in our list of memorable European games for Ulster?
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

As well as a hugely significant game in this season’s European campaign, the visit of Clermont to Kingspan Stadium tonight represents something of a red-letter occasion for the province - their 150th game in the Heineken Cup.

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Only Toulouse, Leicester Tigers, Leinster and Munster have previously hit the tally and there have plenty of memorable moments along the way.

From the never-to-be-forgotten title-winning season of 1999 to last year’s heart-breaker in the Aviva Stadium, rugby correspondent Jonathan Bradley counts down his top ten.

What do you think of our list? Let us know @BelTel_Sport on Twitter, or at Belfast Telegraph Sport on Facebook!

1. Ulster 33 Stade Francais 27; European Cup Semi-Final; January 9, 1999

Understandably dwarfed somewhat by the significance of what followed later than month, it was the semi-final of the 1999 run that goes down as Ulster’s best ever performance in the competition.

Stade were the galaticos of their day, arriving at a hastily expanded Ravenhill with a side boasting star name after star name and expecting to win comfortably against unheralded opponents.

Harry Williams men were superb though, their boldness summed up by their second try of the day through an audacious chip and chase from David Humphreys that saw Sheldon Coulter supply the final pass. A score worthy of winning any game, even this one.

2. Ulster 21 Colomiers 6; European Cup Final; January 30, 1999

An unforgettable occasion, if not necessarily an unforgettable game, Ulster became the first Irish side to lift the trophy in front of a huge 49,000 crowd at Lansdowne Road.

Colomiers were a decent outfit but not at the same standard as the Stade and Toulouse outfits that the northern province had beaten to make the final.

Thanks to a disciplined display and penalties earned through the pressure of their defence, the unerring boot of full-back Simon Mason had secured a historic victory. The side were welcomed home to Belfast as heroes the next day, their triumph bringing the side and sport new fans from all over the country

Craig Gilroy finishes off the wonder try that sent Ulster on their way to victory over Munster

3. Munster 16 Ulster 22; Heineken Cup Quarter-Final; April 8, 2012

Having won the competition in 1999, Ulster went into a lull, not making the semi-finals of the competition again until 2012.

That they did so that year was almost as big a shock. Leicester Tigers were the only side to ever have beaten Munster in the Heineken Cup at Thomond Park but Brian McLaughlin’s side produced a titanic showing. Once again it featured a try for the ages, Craig Gilroy’s slalom score a breathtaking piece of individual brilliance.

4. Ulster 15 Toulouse 13; European Cup Quarter-Final; December 11, 1998

Easy to forget that at the time this was being called Ulster Rugby’s greatest ever win. Like its main rival, the win over Australia in 1984, this was a 15-13 contest won by the boot of an Ulster full-back.

Having been surprisingly turned over in the pool stages with a weakened team, Toulouse, who had never before failed to make the semi-finals, were fully-loaded this time. No matter for Harry Williams men who, on a filthy night, essentially re-established Ravenhill’s reputation as a tough place for visiting teams to come.

Long remembered too for Andy Ward’s mad dash to Lagan Valley to witness the birth of his son Zac after a second-half substitution.

5. Leicester Tigers 19 Ulster 22; Heineken Cup; January 18, 2014

The Ruan Pienaar game.

Both sides entered the game at Welford Road assured of their quarter-final spot but with home advantage meaning there was plenty to play for.

The home side led by ten in the second-half but Ruan Pienaar, who not long before had spurned the advances of free-spending Toulon to stay with Ulster, was at his imperious best.

A charge down try, as well as five occasionally lengthy penalties from the superb Springbok ensured the significant achievement of a six-from-six pool stage.

The Ruan Pienaar-inspired victory in Welford Road

6. Ulster 33 Leicester Tigers 0; Heineken Cup; January 11, 2004

Another clash against the Tigers, this time back in Belfast. The build-up was dominated by talk of protest at the game’s Sunday kick-off and some 40 people including the Reverend Iain Paisley voiced their displeasure at the Ravenhill gates.

The 12,000 on the inside saw Ulster demolish a side containing a healthy number of those who had only months prior won England the World Cup.

7. Ulster 42 London Wasps 19; Heineken Cup; October 5 2001

Ulster’s first ever win over English opposition is remembered instead for the incredible individual performance of David Humphreys.

Remarkably, on a foul night when Ulster began playing into the wind, they trailed 13-6 at the turn with Humphreys having provided just the two three-pointers via the boot. By the time all was said and done he’d contributed a try, a conversion, six penalties and four trademark drop goals.

His 37-point haul remains a competition record.

8. Bath 10 Ulster 28; Heineken Cup; January 23, 2010

Ulster had never won a European game in England before their visit to The Rec in January in 2010 but got a convincing win on the banks of the River Avon.

Danny Grewcock was sent off in the first-half for a stamp and Ulster took full advantage after the turn. While results elsewhere meant they had to wait another year for the knock-outs, no list of Ulster’s finest European moments would be complete without Andrew Trimble’s stunning solo score.

John Cooney tries to escape Leinster's Cian Healy in their Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final defeat at the Aviva Stadium (INPHO/Morgan Treacy)

9. Ulster 18 Leinster 21; Heineken Champions Cup Quarter-Final; March 30, 2019

Ulster may have lost last season’s quarter-final but the significance of getting their and the performance should not be overlooked.

After perhaps the worst year of their professional existence one season prior, a huge number of previously disgruntled fans took advantage of the rare outing to the Aviva and created a wall of noise from start to finish.

The fact that they could, and should, have gone to Dublin and knocked out the reigning champions a sign that getting back to the knock-outs after a five-year absence was no fluke.

10. Castres Olympique 8 Ulster 9; Heineken Cup; January 19, 2013

Eighteen years after this competition began, Ulster finally rid themselves of the monkey on their back by bagging a first win on French soil.

Hardly a classic, but it was an understrength panel that went over to Castres with Mark Anscombe using only 17 players over the course of the 80 minutes.

Three penalties from Ruan Pienaar, and a man of the match display from Chris Henry, saw Ulster home, although they were still forced to go away for the quarter-finals, ultimately losing to Saracens in Twickenham despite banking the same number of pool points.

What do you think of our list? Let us know @BelTel_Sport on Twitter, or at Belfast Telegraph Sport on Facebook!

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