Belfast Telegraph

Ulster fans simply the best

By Michael Sadlier

The drama, emotion and trauma came at you in waves but, throughout, it was the noise which was a constant companion. Forget that Lansdowne Road was about 6,000 short of capacity, for this never lessened the occasion or in any way diminished the experience of seeing the place overwhelmingly bedecked in Ulster colours.

The flags waved, the banners were unfurled and that rather unimaginative ditty ‘Stand up for the Ulstermen’ was belted out with gusto as a corner of Dublin 4 was overrun with the guttural twang northern accents.

The noise of it all — when confined within the ground — swirled around the place with the biting wind and provided a marked contrast to the lowly decibel levels usually produced at Ireland matches these days.

Indeed, we had never realised that the all-new, shiny and polished Lansdowne Road could actually sound like this. In fact, is there any chance we could nip down and play there again?

Anyway, faced with a wall of noise and 15 white shirts — well 14 when Stefan Terblanche was so harshly sent to the bin and understandably asked ‘What was that for’ after his mere slap in Ross Ford’s direction — what chance did Edinburgh have?

You could see how the Ulster players were lifted by what they could see and hear yet, for all that, this was a game that could have really gone either way until Ulster’s superior game-breaking experience, muscle and accuracy finally gave them just enough breathing space as the game entered its latter stages.

There’s no escaping the fact that Ulster were not at their finest but they again weathered the storm and showed tremendous levels of determination and doggedness to see this one out — with Declan Fitzpatrick really stepping up — and anyway we’re in the final so a less than marvellous performance hardly matters now.

Yes, the Scots had chances and, yes, they seemed intent on spilling the ball on countless opportunities but maybe the atmosphere did get to them or they found themselves suffocated by the sense of the occasion. Or maybe Ulster's huge defence, with Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace and Paddy Jackson all making big contributions, made Edinburgh lose focus.

A banner in the lower regions of the East Stand announced a point that few would quibble over. ‘Probably the BEST hooker in the world’ it said.

Yet perhaps we should have an assembly line of them made to wave at Ruan Pienaar.

How about something along the lines of ‘Ruan: Simply the best, better than all the rest’. Yes, it’s a bit long, but you get the drift.

His value to Ulster is incalculable. He brings vision, he brings laser-guided accuracy with his goal-kicking — six from six on Saturday was some going again — he brings a staggering ability to get to the breakdown before, invariably, delivering either a wonderfully quick pass, visionary tactical kick or a very neat break.

His was the call to Pedrie Wannenburg to ‘pick up, pick up and go’ when the South African lunged forward off the back of a scrum into the space Ross Rennie had carelessly vacated to score Ulster’s only try.

Indeed, it was Pienaar’s break off the blindside of a second half scrum that ultimately gave Ulster the momentum they needed to improve on a bum-clenching 13-12 lead.

They even turned down two kickable penalties in a bid to really turn the screw on the back-pedalling Scots which seemed to have back-fired when Wannenburg lost the ball at the posts.

Anyway, two further penalties ensued shortly afterwards — the first from a dominant scrum and the second courtesy of a massive maul from the pack — to take Ulster to what seemed a more comfortable position.

And with five minutes to go Pienaar did the needful again after Tom Court pulverised his opposite number at another scrum. At 22-12 it was as good as done and the Scots could only get consolation in their score.

With the final whistle, the place erupted again. The noise, we’ll never forget it.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph