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Mark McCall lands jackpot but Humphreys is thwarted

By Michael Sadlier

While Ulster could only kick their heels at the weekend and contemplate what might have been as the PRO12 final was played out, it was a notable weekend for two of their former leading lights over in England.

And as things turned out, it was a case of mixed fortunes for former Ulster coach and captain Mark McCall - the last man to lead the province to silverware back in 2006 - and the once star player and director of rugby David Humphreys as the pair who tasted European Cup success at Ravenhill oversaw their respective sides Saracens and Gloucester on the final weekend of the season.

McCall kicked things off when his Saracens side secured the Aviva Premiership title at Twickenham when they turned Bath over by 28-16 but then, yesterday, Humphreys' Gloucester dramatically missed out on a place in next season's European Rugby Champions Cup when a last-minute drop goal earned Bordeaux the play-off result by a mere 23-22.

Humphreys, who unexpectedly quit Ulster last summer for Kingsholm, could only look on in shock as his side were pipped at the post by the French club in a nail-biting finish at Worcester's Sixways ground.

Even though Gloucester secured the European Challenge Cup in his first season as director of rugby, missing out on a place in the premier European competition is still a huge blow.

"Nobody likes to lose a game of that importance in that manner but you've got to give credit to Bordeaux," Humphreys said after Pierre Bernard kicked a drop goal to break Gloucester hearts with the last play of the game.

As for McCall, it was his second Premiership title win - the first came in 2011 - from his hugely consistent squad's fourth final in six seasons and their experience was clearly discernible in blitzing Bath early on and then holding firm in the face of their comeback.

But this one was also particularly sweet as McCall's side lost last year's final to Northampton Saints in the final minute of extra-time, while key playmaker Owen Farrell also escaped a citing and potential ban after a high tackle on Anthony Watson which will have at least pleased Stuart Lancaster with England's World Cup warm-ups coming in August.

Sarries - who, of course, put Ulster out of Europe at the quarter-final stage in both 2013 and the following year in Belfast when Jared Payne was red-carded - hit Bath early on to build up a 25-3 half-time lead and, from there, there was little prospect of their famed Wolfpack letting things slip.

"After the pain and hurt of last season, it's been a heck of a journey," said McCall.

"But to perform like we did in the first half was exceptional. Bath were always going to come back in the second half and they showed what they are capable of.

"We did a couple of dumb things in the game but we hung in there and we are absolutely thrilled to win it."

And the Bangor man admitted: "Last year was always at the back of our mind, but we were very clear that we were owed nothing.

"We had to earn it and we had to scrap our way into the semi-finals.

"It's a relief. If you lose a game when you have a half-time lead like that (25-3) then it's hard to recover from.

"It's been great to be in four finals in six years and now great we have won two of them."

Belfast Telegraph


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