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When Francais feared Ulster’s Ravenhill roar

By Gavin Mairs

With just three days to go to Ulster’s big Heineken Cup kick-off against Stade Francais at Ravenhill, we take a trip down memory lane and look at the province’s sensational unbeaten home record against the Parisian giants.

Remarkably, Ulster hold a 4-3 advantage in the head-to-head statistics against Stade, who have lost all four of their previous visits to Belfast.

As Matt Williams’ side, who broke their Magners League duck with a 13-9 victory over Edinburgh on Friday, aim for a fifth home win against the 2001 and 2005 finalists, Ulster should take inspiration from the heroics of those who have gone before them.

Ulster v Stade Français, Saturday January 9 1999, KO 1pm, Ravenhill:

Who could forget that sunkissed afternoon in January?

After an emphatic win against Toulouse in the quarter-finals of the European Cup in front of 11,500 people, no less than 20,000 people turned out at Ravenhill to roar the Ulster team on to the final of the competition as they got the better of a Stade team that boasted the Italian wizard Diego Dominguez amongst its ranks. With five penalties, a conversion and a drop goal on that monumental day, Simon Mason was undoubtedly the Ulster match-winner.

But the abiding memory is of David Humphreys’ sensational try, with his chip and chase putting Sheldon Coulter clear before the out-half raced in from 40 metres.

With a try by Stephen McKinty and a drop goal by Humphreys to add to the scoreboard, the Ulstermen secured their place in the Final with a 33-27 win in front of an ecstatic Ravenhill crowd.

Ulster v Stade Français, 2nd November 2001, KO 6.50pm, Ravenhill:

The Ulstermen drew Stade in their pool for the 2001/2002 competition and it was again David Humphreys who had an impact with three on-target penalties adding to Tyrone Howe's try, a penalty and a conversion from the boot of Paddy Wallace.

Diego Dominguez was again the dangerman but even his efforts weren't enough to topple an on-form Ulster side and the boys in white came away with a 19-16 win.

Having lost by 40-11 when they travelled to Stade Jean Bouin earlier in the year, the Ulster crowd took pleasure in once again proving that Fortress Ravenhill could withstand even the strongest of tests.

Ulster v Stade Français, 12th December 2003, KO 7.30pm, Ravenhill:

Two years later saw the two teams come up against each other once again and it was a night for the Number 10s as David Humphreys and Stade's veteran out-half, Italian international Diego Dominguez, exchanged penalties in the early stages of the match before Stade No 8 Pierre Rabadan crossed the Ulster line in the 19th minute. Dominguez missed the conversion and Humphreys added another three points for Ulster to keep them in touch with the French.

Stade opened the second half with a drop-goal from centre Brian Liebenberg before Humphreys and Dominguez again traded penalties, and when Humphreys missed an opportunity on 62 minutes, Ulster found themselves five points adrift at 12-17 as they entered the final quarter of the game.

However, the turning point for Ulster, buoyed by the biggest Ravenhill crowd of the season, came when Paddy Wallace, a substitute for full-back Bryn Cunningham, powered through the Stade defence from just inside the 22 to touch down.

The Ravenhill crowd went wild as Humphreys slotted over the conversion to put Ulster ahead for the first time since the early stages of the game and Ulster hung on for a glorious victory.

Ulster v Stade Français, Saturday 11th December 2004, KO 1pm, Ravenhill:

This was Kieran Campbell’s match although once again Humphreys had a massive impact. The season had not started well under new coach Mark McCall and after going down 30-10 a week earlier in Paris, the Ulster supporters would perhaps not have put money on their team coming out on top at Ravenhill for the fourth time.

At the start of the match, Stade looked as if they would carry on comfortably from their victory in Paris, when after just three minutes, they took the lead with a try from full back Juan-Martin Hernandez. David Skrela was successful with the conversion to give Stade a 7-0 lead.

Humphreys got Ulster on the scoreboard some seven minutes later with a penalty to leave Ulster trailing 3-7.

Shortly before half time, Campbell sent the Ravenhill crowd into raptures with a brilliant individual try.

He took a quick tap penalty inside his own half and with a dazzling break skipped past several Stade Francais players to cross the try line. Humphreys missed the conversion, leaving Ulster with an 8-7 lead at half time. A Skrela drop-goal edged the visitors ahead again just after half-time but the No 10 missed two further penalties, one of which hit the uprights.

Ulster got a decisive score just after an hour into the match when Humphreys found the space on the right wing to score in the corner and he then superbly converted his own try to put Ulster into a 15-10 lead. Humphreys then got his full compliment of match scores with a drop goal from 40 metres out to give Ulster an emphatic 18-10 win.

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