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Ulster's quality hasn't gone unnoticed outside of province


Top form: Darren Cave celebrates after beating NG Dragons

Top form: Darren Cave celebrates after beating NG Dragons

Top form: Darren Cave celebrates after beating NG Dragons

There is something particularly satisfying about having something or someone close to your heart endorsed by others you hold in high esteem.

Friday night at Ravenhill was a case in point.

I was delighted when Edmund Van Esbeck joined me on the temporary press benches on the east terrace. For the benefit of younger readers who may not be familiar with the name or work of the Irish Times' now-retired rugby correspondent, I quote from another of the game's greats, the late Sir Ewart Bell, former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and chairman of the 1995 World Rugby Cup in South Africa.

In his foreword to Ned's excellent book, 'The Story of Irish Rugby', Sir Ewart wrote: 'His dedication to rugby football is unflagging, his knowledge of the game and its participants is unsurpassed and he espouses and articulates its best traditions with unbounded enthusiasm'.

Amen to all of that. What an authority, what a font of knowledge, what a source of wisdom.

So in the circumstances, it was indeed heart-warming to hear that doyen of all Irish rugby writers laud Ulster for the quality and manner of their play at the moment.

"There is tremendous speed in that back line. I love watching them, they're playing a great style of rugby," he said.

Ned travelled up north from Dublin with Tony Ward. He was not working as his days as a journalist are over, alas. No, he was at Ravenhill simply because he loves rugby and he loves the way Ulster are trying to play it these days.

"I've always enjoyed coming up here," he said. "I have always been made welcome."

Coming from a man who, in order to report on rugby, continued to come to Northern Ireland through the worst years of The Troubles, that was heartening.

And after Friday night's game, there was another telling tribute to Ulster – from two-try hero Tommy Bowe.

Highlighting the magnificent new facilities, he enthused: "The stadium is just looking exceptional at the minute.

"It's going to be one of the top stadiums in European rugby and when we fill that out for the Heineken Cup against Saracens the place is going to be rocking.

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"What a carrot, what a game for everybody to look forward to."

Amen to that, too.

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