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Revealed: Tele readers' Ulster Rugby team of the decade

We asked you to vote for your Ulster Rugby team of the decade.
We asked you to vote for your Ulster Rugby team of the decade.
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

More than 10,000 votes have been cast since we asked you to help us pick our Ulster Rugby team of the decade and the results are now in.

Rugby round up Newsletter

Game previews, plus expert insights and exclusive commentary from the Belfast Telegraph sports team.

You've chosen a mixture of current stars and past heroes, reflecting the great talents that have turned out for the northern province between 2010 and the present day.

While there's been no silverware brought back to Kingspan Stadium, this XV have been responsible for plenty of memorable moments over the past ten years.

15. Jared Payne

Jared Payne 68%

Charles Piutau 23%

Louis Ludik 9%

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Jared Payne
 

Signed from the Auckland Blues in 2011 as a three-year project player, Jared Payne's first season with Ulster was ruined by injury.

He made his debut halfway through September of that year but only three weeks later would damage his ACL and be out for the remainder of his first campaign, missing out on the side's run to the Heineken Cup final against Leinster. Returning to start the next season, Payne's class quickly shone through with his creativity at full-back a key part of a side then renowned as one of Europe's most attacking teams.

He played more centre in later seasons, resulting in him replacing the retiring Brian O'Driscoll in the national side once he became Irish-qualified on residency grounds. Ultimately he earned 20 caps for Joe Schmidt's side, winning a Six Nations in 2015 and going to the World Cup later that same year. Was a British and Irish Lion in 2017, a tour on which he would play his final games with his retirement due to injury confirmed the next year. Has seemingly moved from playing to coaching seamlessly and has been earning strong reviews for his work as the side's defence coach.

14. Andrew Trimble

Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe 62%

Bowe and Stockdale 17%

Trimble and Stockdale 13%

Trimble and Gilroy 5%

Bowe and Gilroy 2%

Stockdale and Gilroy 1%

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Andrew Trimble
 

Nobody has ever made more appearances for Ulster than Andrew Trimble, a distinction he shares with his long-time team-mate Darren Cave. Made the first of those 229 outings all the way back in 2005 and was entering his prime by the turn of the decade.

Not just a frequent scorer but a scorer of memorable tries too, some of his efforts will surely be ingrained in the memory of the Ulster faithful for years to come. Remembered not just for his scoring feats but his commitment to the cause both on and off the field having rejected lucrative offers to stay at Ravenhill.

Won 70 Ireland caps, scoring 17 tries and starring in the famous win over the All Blacks in Chicago three years ago.

13. Darren Cave

Darren Cave 55%

Luke Marshall 38%

Will Addison 7%

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Darren Cave
 

Ulster Rugby’s record appearance holder - a distinction he shares with Andrew Trimble, few men have embodied what it means to play for the province more than Darren Cave over the past decade.

Retiring only at the end of last season, Cave’s organisation and defensive qualities were a crucial aspect of the backline’s best days while his distribution was often under-rated too. Moments such as his hat-trick against Leicester Tigers at Kingspan Stadium are obvious stand-outs but his performance last year against Leinster in the Champions Cup quarter-final off the back of very little rugby was a sign of his enduring quality.

Would have no doubt won more than his 11 caps if it wasn’t for his Test career significantly over-lapping with a certain Brian O’Driscoll can still count a World Cup in 2015 and a tour of New Zealand among notable career achievements. 

12. Stuart McCloskey

Stuart McCloskey 49%

Nevin Spence 28%

Paddy Wallace 23%

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Stuart McCloskey in action against Harlequins

The side's incumbent at inside centre, Stuart McCloskey has become a real cornerstone of Dan McFarland's side and is undoubtedly a key component of the backline.

Possessing a physicality that can be considered rare in an Ulster back, there are times when his running with ball in hand can be akin to having an extra forward. Nicknamed the Bangor Bulldozer for that ability to get across the gainline, his emergence into the Ulster set-up came after a late growth spurt in school saw him move from scrum-half, to ten, and then eventually his current home at centre.

Made his Ulster deut in February of 2014 against the Dragons, the first of a tally that currently stands at 115 in a white jersey after last week's win over Harlequins. His Ireland debut would follow two years on from his Ulster bow, starting a Six Nations clash against England in Twickenham. He has added two more caps since but was left out of the wider World Cup panel by Joe Schmidt before earning a call-up for Andy Farrell's first training camp next week.

His eye for an offload is one reason he has become a fan favourite at Kingspan Stadium while recent weeks have brought an added emphasis to his kicking game too, creating two tries with grubber kicks.

11. Tommy Bowe

Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe 62%

Bowe and Stockdale 17%

Trimble and Stockdale 13%

Trimble and Gilroy 5%

Bowe and Gilroy 2%

Stockdale and Gilroy 1%

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Tommy Bowe
 

Forever an Irish hero thanks to 30 tries in green,  none more important than in the 2009 Grand Slam, Tommy Bowe began the 2010s in the colours of a star-studded Ospreys outfit.

He would return to his native province in the summer of 2012 however with an impressive start to his second stint unfortunately curtailed by an serious injury suffered against Northampton just before Christmas. Rebounded to make the 2013 Lions tour under Warren Gatland, the province's first player since Jeremy Davidson to earn a Test cap for the side ultimately ending up with five split between 2009 and 2013.

Arguably one of Ulster's most complete wingers of all time, there were few better sights at Ravenhill than that of Bowe in full flight, he remains the PRO14's record try scorer on 67.

10. Paddy Jackson

Paddy Jackson 89%

Ian Humphreys 6%

Billy Burns 5%

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Paddy Jackson
 

After taking the reins from Ian Humphreys during the run to the 2012 Heineken Cup final, Paddy Jackson was thrown in at the deep end not long after his 20th birthday.

He would become a fixture in the side though and made his Ireland debut in the Six Nations of 2013 during the last days of Declan Kidney's time in charge. He would go onto make 25 appearances for Ireland, including a win in South Africa in the summer of 2016. Alongside Ruan Pienaar at Ulster, the pair would form a formidable half-back partnership and he was a key figure as the province made four consecutive European quarter-finals between 2012 and 2015, as well as the Pro12 final of 2013.

Jackson, along with team-mate Stuart Olding, had his contract revoked in 2018 following their acquittal of rape charges in a high-profile court case. He would spend one year playing in France before reuniting with former bosses Kidney and Les Kiss at London Irish.

9. Ruan Pienaar

Ruan Pienaar 86%

John Cooney 12%

Paul Marshall 2%

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Ruan Pienaar
 

The Springbok World Cup winner arrived to much fanfare in 2010 and quickly set about showing his class with a string of match-winning performances.

Over the course of seven years in an Ulster jersey would become the province's greatest foreign import and a talisman for a side that reached four consecutive European quarter-finals as well as a PRO12 final. His career in Ireland would end in controversial circumstances, refused a contract extension by the IRFU due to a ruling on "succession planning."

His emotional farewell against Leinster at the end of a season yielding no knock-out rugby was ill-fitting for a player who had rejected the lure of Toulon to remain in Ireland at the end of his first contract. Still plying his trade in the PRO14 with the Cheetahs.

1. Eric O'Sullivan

Eric O'Sullivan 53%

Tom Court 42%

Callum Black 5%

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Eric O’Sullivan
 

Eric O'Sullivan has played only 34 times for Ulster to date but there is little doubt that his 2018/19 campaign was one of the very best put in for the province by a loosehead this decade.

A native of Dublin, he found himself on the outside looking in when Leinster Academy places were handed out but got his chance after impressing at Trinity during a time when Ulster's A side was desperately short of bodies in the propping department. A fine example of seizing an opportunity, O'Sullivan turned that emergency call-up into an Academy contract and, after a first season spent in the unfamiliar confines of Banbridge RFC, he quickly caught the eye of new head coach Dan McFarland in the summer of 2018.

He made his debut in the first game of that next season, becoming a mainstay in the side and saving his best performances for the run to the European quarter-finals. A former back-rower, he's become known for his prodigious work-rate and was tipped as a possible future international by none other than Joe Schmidt this time last year.

2. Rory Best

Rory Best 90%

Rob Herring 7%

Nigel Brady 3%

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Rory Best

In a remarkable feat of longevity, Rory Best began the decade as Ulster's starting hooker and remained so until three months before it concluded. A true great of the province, arguably few men have ever wielded a greater influence over goings on at Kingspan Stadium.

Naturally durable - to the tune of over 300 pro appearances - a sterling scrummager and real breakdown threat, Best's most sought after quality was perhaps his leadership. Captain to begin and (nearly) end the decade, he ceded the role to Johann Muller and then a combination of Rob Herring and Andrew Trimble at various points but there remained the sense that Best set the emotional pitch for the side throughout the period.

His achievements stretched beyond the white of Ulster and he will do down as Ireland's most decorated captain having led the side to a first pair of wins over the All Blacks, as well as the 2018 Grand Slam and a maiden victory on South African soil. Fitted in two Lions tours during the decade too before wrapping up his career just last month with a three-game run as a Barbarian.

3. John Afoa

John Afoa 73%

BJ Botha 15%

Marty Moore 12%

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John Afoa runs in a try

The Kiwi was a World Cup winner by the time he arrived in Belfast having come off the bench when New Zealand finally got over the line in 2011. He would make his Ulster debut that same Autumn against Connacht and was a key figure in the side that made that season's Heineken Cup final, although missing the quarter-final against Edinburgh through suspension. He was still only 30 years old when his departure was announced with then Director of Rugby David Humphreys hailing his professionalism amidst the challenges of living and working in Belfast when his family had returned to New Zealand. Widely expected to head home after his contract ended in 2014, Afoa instead opted for a switch to the Aviva Premiership and Gloucester. He's still going strong today, now in the colours of the much-talked about Bristol Bears.

4 & 5. Johann Muller and Iain Henderson

Johann Muller and Iain Henderson 92%

Johann Muller and Dan Tuohy 5%

Henderson and Tuohy 3%

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Johann Muller
 

Arriving in the summer of 2010, Johann Muller is yet another former Shark beloved by Ulster who made the 24-cap South African skipper of the side. Still talked about in almost revered tones, his organisation, leadership and set-piece work were the foundational parts of a side revamped in the seasons after his arrival.

Having not made a European quarter-final since their winning season of 1999, the northern province, bolstered by a number of key imports brought in by David Humphreys, reached the last eight every season of Muller's tenure and the final of 2012. By the time he announced his retirement in 2014, injuries had begun to take their toll and he was only 33 when he played his last game for the side.

Moved home to the farm in South Africa once his Ulster career was over, returned to Kingspan Stadium in the spring of 2017 to be there when his good friend Ruan Pienaar played his last game for the province.

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Iain Henderson

Still just 27-years-old, it says much for what Iain Henderson has already achieved in the game that when it came time for Dan McFarland to choose his successor to Rory Best in the captaincy role at Kingspan Stadium that there was one CV that stood out so readily from the rest.

Having already exceeded 50 caps for Ireland and been a tourist with the British and Irish Lions, Henderson's stature among his peers is undoubted and he remains the homegrown jewel in the heart of the Kingspan Stadium pack. Something of a rarity in Irish rugby, he is often described as a physical freak and it was his bullish carrying ability that caught the eye when he first debuted back in 2012. Since, he has matured from the back-row into the engine room with his lineout nous becoming an ever-increasing part of his game.

Having penned a new IRFU contract just last year, Ulster fans can take heart too from the fact that there remains plenty more to come.

6. Stephen Ferris

Stephen Ferris 93%

Roger Wilson 4%

Robbie Diack 3%

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Stephen Ferris

It's no exaggeration to describe Stephen Ferris as a generational talent.

As the decade began he was coming off a tour to South Africa that, if not for injury, surely would have saw him join Tommy Bowe as the province's only Test Lions since Jeremy Davidson in 1997. An absolute wrecking ball of a player, Ferris was at his destructive best when tucking the ball under his arm and exploding into contact or putting his sizeable frame between an opposition carrier and the gainline.

As his lifting of Will Genia in Ireland's 2011 Rugby World Cup pool game showed, smaller players were taking a real risk running at the formidable blindside. There's little doubting that 'Man and Ball' was an appropriate title for his interesting autobiography. Superb during Ulster's run to the 2012 Heineken Cup final, unfortunately injuries would curtail his career and, following an ankle injury in November of that year, he would play only four more times for his native province before retiring in the summer of 2014.

He was only 28-years-old when he hung up the boots, doing so after a career that saw him make 106 appearances for the province and a further 35 for Ireland. Even in his injury-plagued later days, he still provided some memorable moments, none more so than his the first tackle of his long-awaited comeback game in 2014.

7. Chris Henry

Chris Henry 86%

Jordi Murphy 8%

Sean Reidy 6%

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Chris Henry

For a huge swathe of the decade, Chris Henry was the stand-out operator in Ulster's number seven jersey.

Having made his debut in 2009 against Harlequins, by the next summer he'd made his international debut for Ireland. Having almost walked away from the game due to a lack of opportunities, the switch from number eight to openside he became a fixture in the side to the tune of 184 outings in the white jersey before retirement in January of 2018.

A true and traditional number seven, Henry did his best work on the ground and was a a nuisance in the best sense of the word. His return from a mini-stroke suffered on the eve of an Ireland Test against South Africa was an inspirational story making his way back not only to provincial duty but into the national set-up, winning his 24th and final cap at the 2015 World Cup.

8. Marcell Coetzee

Marcell Coetzee 54%

Nick Williams 35%

Pedir Wannenburg 11%

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Marcell Coetzee
 

Nick Williams departure from Ulster was essentially forced due to a lack of available NIQ spots and the arrival of Marcell Coetzee. Unfortunately for both the province and their newest Springbok, disaster struck before his arrival at Kingspan Stadium.

An injured knee in the April of his last season with the Sharks proved to be a torn ACL and sparked a two-year injury nightmare. Managing only five games through his first two seasons, he battled his way back to prove himself as one of the best players plying their trade in Ireland last season, doing enough to earn a Springbok recall.

Unfortunate not to be a part of the winning World Cup squad after a short-term ankle injury sustained against Argentina in the summer, Coetzee has carried his form into this season where he has been a stand-out for Dan McFarland's men in both the PRO14 and Champions Cup.

So there it is. Disagree? Tweet us your Ulster Rugby team of the decade to @URRoundUp.

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