Ulster: Remembering the day when Ulster were crowned Kings of Europe

This day 20 years ago in Dublin, Ulster were crowned Kings of Europe.

Wednesday, 30th January 2019, 9:00 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 7:42 pm
David Humphreys, Tony McWhirter and Andy Ward celebrate Ulster's win

In front of 49,000 fans at the old Lansdowne Road - home of Irish Rugby - Ulster defeated Colomiers 21-6 to become the fourth winner of the Heineken Cup and the first Irish Province to lift the trophy.

It was the stuff of fairytales for a squad of players made of some professionals, builders, lorry drives and students and coached by a former primary school headmaster, Harry Williams.

In a group of twists and turns - and a bit of fortune - a campaign which started with a 38-38 draw at home against Edinburgh Reivers, a thumping in France to Toulouse, Ulster went on to win four of the matches, including turning over the strongly fancied Toulouse over in Belfast.

Rugby European Cup Final 30/1/1999 David Humphreys of Ulster celebrates with the European cup © INPHO/Billy Stickland

Ulster won a dramatic last group game 23-21 at Edinburgh and they were to top their group after minnows Ebbw Vale defeated Toulouse.

Toulouse, winners in 1996, were drawn to come to Belfast for the quarter-final.

Talismanic backrow, Andy Ward, was whisked away at half-time to be at the birth of his son - Ulster held on to win 15-13.

And then came the game which was probably the highlight of the campaign - even ahead of the final.

Rugby European Cup Final 30/1/1999 Ulster team © INPHO/Billy Stickland

The cream of French rugby in Stade Francais travelled to a packed bursting at the seams then Ravenhill.

A famous try by David Humphreys - fed by winger Sheldon Coulter - was to send Ulster on their way to that showdown with Colomiers and what would become the greatest day in Ulster history.

Full back Simon Mason hoisted his points tally for the tournament to 144 with an impeccable display of six penalty goals out of six attempts, fly half and captain Humphreys weighed in with a second half drop goal as Ulster never wavered in their conviction of becoming European champions.

Colomiers did score first with a Laurent Labit penalty goal but once Mason began doing the business he does best – accumulating points – there was always going to be Ulster’s colours on the solid-silver trophy.

Rugby European Cup Final 30/1/1999 Ulster players celebrate with trophy David Humphreys, Mark Blair and Justin Fitzpatrick © INPHO/Billy Stickland

Mason, who contributed a lot more than those six successful kicks, was among half a dozen who could easily have won the Man-of-the-Match that went to midfield tower of strength Jonathan Bell.

They have dined out on it since - Simon Mason, Sheldon Coulter, Jan Cunningham, Jonathan Bell, Andy Park, David Humphreys, Andy Matchett, Justin Fitzpatrick, Allen Clarke, Rab Irwin, Mark Blair, Gary Longwell, Stephen McKinty, Andy Ward, Tony McWhirter, Stanley McDowell, Derek Topping, Gary Leslie, Bryn Cunningham, Ritchie Weir, Stewart Duncan, Stephen Bell, Mark McCall

Harry Williams (coach), Colin Wilkinson (asst coach), David Irwin (team doctor), Michael Reid (CEO), Willie Wallace (bag man), John Martin (physio), John Kineear (manager)

Rugby European Cup Final 30/1/1999; Ulster v Colomiers Stanley McDowell of Ulster goes through the Colomier defence ©INPHO/Patrick Bolger
30/1/1999 European Rugby Cup Final Lansdowne Road Ulster Fans spill on to the pitch ©INPHO/Patrick Bolger