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Getting to Know…Ulster

Guinness PRO12 Editor

7 Aug 2017

Ulster are one of the strongest forces in the Guinness PRO14 and are a regular play-off contender.

The Northern Irish side always supply a good number of the Irish national team and sent three players on the British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand this summer in the shape of Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Jared Payne.

The Ulstermen finished fifth last season with 14 wins and seven defeats, but their greatest moment came in 2005-6 when they lifted the Championship title with a last gasp 19-17 win over the Ospreys.

History

Ulster represent the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) Ulster branch, one of four primary branches of the IRFU, with the team being responsible for rugby union across the Irish province of Ulster.

The branch was formed in 1879 and Ulster have been an extremely successful province having won the Inter-Provincial Championship a record 26 times.

They turned professional in 1995 and became the first Irish side to win Europe’s greatest honour, the then Heineken Cup, in 1998-99 when they beat French team US Colomiers 21-6 in a Lansdowne Road final.

Ulster joined the Celtic League in 2001 and have been one of the Guinness Pro14 heavyweights ever since, finishing as runners up twice, in 2004 and 2013, with that 2006 title as their pinnacle.

Captain

Wing Andrew Trimble is one of Ireland’s finest players and is a true one-club man having represented Ulster since he made his debut for Ulster in 2005.

Andrew Trimble

The powerful back also debuted for Ireland in 2005 and has since won 70 caps, representing Ireland at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups before missing 2015 through injury.

Devout Christian Trimble has endured injury problems in recent seasons, but is now fit again and ready to lead the team into the new Guinness PRO14 season.
Coach

The coaching team at the Kingspan has seen wholesale changes over the summer with Jonno Gibbes taking over from Neil Doak as head coach, as the club look to deliver their first silverware since 2006.

Gibbes has arrived from a three-year stint as Clermont Auvergne’s forwards coach and returns to Ireland having previously spent six years coaching at Leinster.

The 40-year-old kiwi will operate under director of rugby Les Kiss and is joined by Aaron Dundon as the new scrum coach and former Welsh international Dwayne Peel as backs coach.

Star man

In Charles Piutau Ulster undoubtedly have one of the best players in the entire northern hemisphere, and perhaps the whole world.

In May, Piutau was named the Championship’s Players’ Player of the Year, with the New Zealand international being rewarded for his elusive running and game-breaking ability.

The 25-year-old All Black brings the Kingspan crowd to their feet whenever he touches the ball and often creates that moment of magic when least expected.

Player to watch

Ulster don’t have a nailed-down fly-half at present and there will be opportunities at ten this season – Ireland Under-20s star Johnny McPhillips had injuries to contend with last season but is a certain rising star of Irish rugby.

19-year-old McPhillips was upgraded to a development contract last term and started all five matches of the Ireland Under-20s Six Nations campaign in the fly-half jersey.

The youngster was a full-back initially but has since displayed excellent distribution and maturity beyond his years – he’ll push hard for a first XV place this season.

Stadium

The Kingspan Stadium has been Ulster’s home since 1923 and has seen some changes in its time due to increasing crowds.

In 2009 a new stand was unveiled and since then two new stands have been built at the Aquinas and Memorial ends of the ground.

Reconstruction work was completed in 2014, increasing the capacity to 18,196, and the Championship title was decided there in 2015 with Glasgow beating Munster in the final.

Historic rivalries

Historically Ulster’s fiercest rivals have been the other three Irish provinces as they battled out the Inter-Provincial Championship before the arrival of the Guinness PRO14.

The Belfast-based team have been perhaps overshadowed by their rivals in the Guinness PRO14 era with Leinster winning four titles and Munster winning three.

But historically Ulster are considered by many to be the strongest province and the recent successes of their neighbours is a huge inspiration for the side as they look to recreate the glory days.