Humphreys backs Ulster to shine
April 23, 2012
David Humphreys lifts the Heineken Cup silverware in 1999 alongside team-mate Mark McCall © Getty Images
Ulster director of rugby David Humphreys believes the province's current crop of players are ready to eclipse the achievements of the side he led to the 1999 Heineken Cup crown.
The 21-6 victory over Colomiers in Dublin made Ulster the first Irish winners of European club rugby's most coveted crown but this is the first time since then that they have qualified for the semi-finals. The years that have followed that memorable triumph have seen their provincial rivals Munster and defending champions Leinster each win two Heineken Cup titles and Humphreys insists Ulster are ready to join them as multiple winners.
The former Ireland fly-half believes Johann Muller's team can write their own chapter in Ulster's history with victory over Edinburgh in their semi-final showdown at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Their reward will be a date with either Clermont Auvergne or Leinster in the 17th Heineken Cup final at Twickenham on May 19.
"Everyone involved with Ulster believes that it is time the constant references to 1999 are put to bed - there is no-one left on the playing side so it is time to move on," said Humphreys. "This current squad is very ambitious and we are just delighted to have qualified for what should be a great semi-final. Two of the four Irish provinces are in the top tier of European teams and we are striving to close that gap on our near neighbours so our quarter-final win against Munster was the culmination of a lot of hard work in the last few years.
"Now the focus is on Edinburgh because any team that can beat Toulouse has to have put in a very good performance. Toulouse are consistently one of the very top teams in Europe and Edinburgh certainly found that performance. The win was a statement of where Edinburgh are going and when they have all their international players available they are more than a match for anyone.
"We have had a good couple of years, with our improvement being in the set piece and breakdown areas, and if we can keep everyone fit then, just like Edinburgh, we are also a very hard side to beat. The breakdown almost determines the result of today's games so it requires strong refereeing and we are very comfortable that Romain Poite will be strong in that area."
While Humphreys was contributing a drop goal to Ulster's 1999 triumph, current back rower Chris Henry was also at the old Lansdowne Road that day - in his case as a 14-year-old fan - and is set to be a key figure in that battle of the breakdown. "I was in the top tier of the stand with my Dad holding a mini rugby ball," he said. "Now, to put ourselves in the position of being one step away from a Heineken Cup final, is incredible.
"It was great to reach the knock-out stages last year, but we were all bitterly disappointed losing in Northampton. But this will be a totally different occasion - we will be playing in front of a home crowd and you can never underestimate the value of that to a team. When you are mentally and physically wrecked, the crowd helps you to find something extra. When you need to dig deeper than ever before, as we did in Munster in the quarter-finals, then the fans can be invaluable in helping you to find something.
"We are in a really good place at the moment but we know there is a lot more hard work ahead of us before we can get to where we want to be. We are very confident about the Edinburgh game and we believe it is a game we can win."
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