Rugby Union: European Cup final - Ulster take a red-carpet ride

Irish rise to the occasion as French bow to irresistible force; Ulster 21 Colomiers 6
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The Independent Online
ULSTER'S improbable but inspired march reached its illogical conclusion at Lansdowne Road yesterday when they became the first Irish side to win the European Cup. In the year that England boycotted the competition it was the red and white flag of the Northern Ireland province which was gloriously unfurled to raise the standard.

The poor French didn't stand a chance. The sky fell in on Colomiers, a satellite of Toulouse, almost as soon as they realised the final was to be held in Dublin. Christians, lions and amphitheatres came to mind.

The match itself was by no means a classic - and indeed there were no tries - but that didn't prevent it from becoming a classic occasion. A capacity crowd of 49,000, a record for the cup, filled Lansdowne Road. All but 3,000 were Irish and at times Colomiers probably felt similarly outnumbered on the pitch. The French club's emblem is a dove and it nestled nervously in Ulster's Red Hand for most of the game. The European Cup, previously held by Toulouse, Brive and Bath, will be on display at Ravenhill today.

It may have been collected in Dublin but a hand was placed on it in the Belfast headquarters where Ulster's campaign was driven by the fanatical zeal which inspired immense performances against Toulouse and Stade Francais.

By train, plane and car, the phenomenal support was transferred to Dublin and it is not surprising that Colomiers, who are not as well equipped as Toulouse and Stade Francais, were overawed.

Ulster, reinforced this season by the return to Ireland of a group of England-based exiles, have displayed an indomitable faith throughout and it was even more unshakeable yesterday. The parts of the team are no more than moderate but the sum is huge.

Ulster won comfortably enough with Simon Mason, who had already scored 126 points in the competition, kicking six penalties out of six attempts. David Humphreys, another key figure, dropped a goal and Colomiers' inadequate response was two penalties. The first came in the fifth minute, through Laurent Labit, and for three minutes the French held the lead.

With his first kick Mason showed he was in prime form, dissecting the posts from an acute angle 40 yards out. By the 14th minute Ulster had a lead which was never seriously threatened. Humphreys put in an up and under, and Colomiers, in disarray, conceded a penalty which Mason converted.

Ulster's tactics were limited but they were suitable for the day. Mason kicked his third penalty after 34 minutes and his fourth on the stroke of half-time following another Humphreys garryowen. Ulster wasted no time in building on their half- time lead of 12-3. First Humphreys drove Colomiers deep into their own territory with a raking kick and then hoisted yet another up and under which was almost inch perfect. The Colomiers defence never looked like clearing the danger and Humphreys had time and space to drop a goal.

Ulster were well on their way. As Colomiers became more and more unsettled by Ulster's intimidating approach, so they ran foul of the referee, Clayton Thomas. It became even more apparent that it was not their day when, having been awarded a rare penalty, they found the decision reversed after Patrick Tabacco threw a punch. He should have come with a warning: Tabacco can be harmful to your health.

So the pattern continued with the Ulster pack driving, marauding and tackling like men possessed, with Humphreys tormenting their defence and inevitably Mason putting the points on the board. He kicked his fifth penalty after 53 minutes and his sixth in the 67th.

About the only area of the game in which Colomiers enjoyed superiority was in the scrum, but they were never allowed to make it count, and they hardly displayed any of the running rugby for which they are renowned. Only once did Jean-Luc Sadourny threaten, when he took a long pass on the right wing to make inroads into the Ulster 22. He was adjudged to have been late tackled, but even then, and from a wonderful position, the French made a mess of it. Ignoring a kick at goal, they drove for the line, but were penalised for employing the illegal wedge.

They were still cursing the referee near the end when Mickael Carre took a sharp pass near the line from Philippe Pueyo to go over near the posts. When the referee blew for a forward pass Carre angrily hurled the ball into the crowd.

Nothing was going to deter Ulster from what the supporters believed was their day of destiny and at the final whistle thousands of Ulstermen, nearly all draped in red and white, engulfed the ground, the players and almost the cup itself.

Ulster: S Mason; S Coulter, J Cunningham (S McDowell, 44), J Bell, A Park; D Humphreys (capt), A Matchett; J Fitzpatrick, A Clarke, R Irwin (G Lesley, 73), M Blair, G Longwell, S McKinty, T McWhirter (D Topping, 75), A Ward.

Colomiers: J-L Sadourny (capt), M Biboulet, S Roque, J Sieurac, B Lhandes (D Skrela, 20); L Labit (M Carre, 53), F Galthie; S Delpuech, M Dal Maso, S Graou, G Moro, J-M Lorenzi, B de Giusti, S Peysson (P Pueyo, 67), P Tabacco.

Referee: C Thomas (Wales).

Andrew Longmore, page 12

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