Ulster v Stade Francais Saturday 9th Jan 1999 Ravenhill 1.00pm
The performance of Ulster taking on Stade Francais on Saturday will go
the stuff of legends. 19,960 Ulstermen will be proud to say "I was
there", (there were
also about 40 Frenchmen).
The ground capacity of 14,000 that had seen the victories over Toulouse
had to be
extended for the semi-final. (It was in the rules of the competition).
Two temporary stands were errected at either end of the ground, (the
Memorial Stand and Aquinas Stand for the day), two rows of seats were on
the grass in front of the terracing. The day started cold but warmed up
a little, clear skies and just a hint of a breeze coming from the main
I entered the ground just after 12 to find the terracing was already
filling. A stage had been errected at the top of the terrace and bland
music played. I took up my position near the 10 m
line half way up the terrace. The crowd were gathering in hope rather
than expectation. Ulster came out for a photo call and went in again.
The subs practiced some kicking. The Stade side came out and warmed up.
The referee Jim Flemming and touch judges ran up and down. Exposure came
on stage and sang a couple of bland numbers. The crowd swelled even more
most ignoring the band. Then Ottis from "Ottis and the Elevators" and
singer from the Ulster squads' cd "Wild Rover", he tried to get the
crowd going. He got half hearted support, but it filled the nervous
moments. Stade came out to polite applause, Ottis tried to raise the
roof, and finished saying "if thats all then God help Ulster". We were
all too nervous to really raise the roof. Ulster emerged and all the
nerves went in one loud roar.
We kicked off, they drove us back got a penalty, line-out, we must
settle need to stop their forwards, scrum we're getting pushed but begin
to steady Humphries relieves great kick their
full back has to kick it out. Our line-out drive by the winger coming in
between scrum half and out half ruck go blind ruck ball comes open only
three open long pass goes to ground, French offside from the ruck. Yes
we can breethe again. Mason edge of the 22 relatively central 3points.
Humphries attempts a drop goal part charged down. Ulster pressurise in
everything bar the scrum, our lineouts are clean theirs are being
disrupted they shorten the line at times to tidy it up. More pressure
their out half tries to clear. It is down Mason's throat five meters
from touch outside their 22 and he takes and drops a goal direct in line
with me and the posts. Always over never flinching from straight. 6-0
can it be possibly, maybe.
The French kick off, we are at 6's and 7's eventually clear to the half
way, they are back at us
ruck develops Fleming warns our backs about encrouching, their centers
are up in front of the outhalf, he goes for a high one, Fleming has to
blow the centers were 2 yards at least in front of the kicker, Mason
gets ball and centers on the edge of the 22. Fleming blows, yes he has
seen what we saw, no he gives a penalty against Mason for not releasing.
We need to settle.
Some good pressure by us. Penalty to us their 22 over on the right close
to the touch. Humphries goes for touch, don't let them off with 3 points
go for it. Line out taken at front, driven and spun round the front,
McKinty scores (so I'm told saw none of it for arms). Mason misses the
Another chance penalty Mason hits the post and Coulter follows up
putting the French under pressure. Their forwards begin to grind away 11
-3 can we hold on. They get us back in our left hand corner. We seem
trapped there scrum to them 7 meters out.They drive and drive and
Fleming raises his hand the out half kicks 11-10 we are still ahead.
They pressusise more down the Ulster right this time, (the corner I
can't see). Tackle maul, half break tackle maul tackle tackle gone open
no he cuts back gone blind 3 to 2 the French backs arms go up the
whislte goes. Dejection so close to half time, but the touch judge has
his flag up, eleation our line out. To the front drive up the touch line
relieve the pressure. Half time 11-10 ahead, maybe just maybe. They have
thrown their best at us, can our gallant pack hold out, will they tire,
I'm tired and I'm just watching.
Kick off which we seem to be having difficulty recieving. Ward gathers
and drives, ball bthere and another drive they knock us back, ball was
put on the ground not coming out our scrum 15 m in from touch on our
right (far side of the pitch) between our 22 and 10m line. They drive
the scrum it wheels clockwise. Flemming says try again. Humphries drops
behind the scrum on the edge of his 22. We need quick ball, not coming
scrum wheels again Humphries is looking straight at their flanker.
Matchett takes, flanker goes for him Humphries has it, chips Coulter
gathers it on the 10m line and has one man to beat, cuts to the inside a
little draws the tackle and pops the ball to Humphries on the loop. He
is being persued but the gap is opening the cover caught wanting and he
is in for the best try I've seen in years, and it was planned, they knew
what they were doing I'm convinced of that. Mason puts over the
conversion 18-10, two scores in it, need more their pack will grind us
down. We have them rattled though, a few mistakes in their game. Drive
them back with good kicks and our line out jumpers are in a different
class at this stage. We use the ball it comes wide to the right wing
just inside their half. Kick behind their defense and chase, full back
goes down on it Parks following his kick doesn't dive in waits for him
to rise to his feet, he is expecting to be hit and hit hard. Parks waits
forwards begin to arrive. Flemming blows, lying on the ball. If Parks
had dived in the penalty would have been the other way. Mason yes 21-10
. They make 3 changes just after the restart all in the pack 2 in the
Soak up more pressure, push them into their half line out our ball on
their 22 ball back to Humphries drop goal kick and it wobbles and turns
and twists and goes over 24-10.
They are fired up, another shambles at the restart, penalty to them out
half puts it close to the goal line. They now throw better to the line
out and take and drive we hold it up and they drive again and again and
eventually score, and convert 24-17.
Rab Irwin has to leave injured and is replaced, they pick up the pace
again use the forwards and we tackle and tackle and soak it up. Every
hand to it now, hold on don't stray offside drift in defence don't leave
one on one cover and tackle. They get a penalty and its 24-20, so close
so long left, can we hold out need to get back at them. (The score board
already has it 24-27, do they see another Stade try coming).
Our scrum is much more secure though, we get back into their half and
yes another penalty Mason does the buisness it is us with 27 and them
with 20 the scoreboard now reads correctly.
Ward fields the kick off and drives and we get the ball back and
relieve, they are always more dangerous just after we score, need
another score just to be safe. McWhirter has to leave the pitch. They
are heros in that pack. Penalty to us coming over Mason steps up 30-20.
More than 10 minutes to go.
Kick off back to the fumbles ball back to Humphries though under
pressure skies the kick no
distance, falls on the forwards who are penalised for not retreating.
They go for the corner again down our right, lineout take drive tackle
drive same as before Flemming rasies an arm and the out half brings it
back to 30 -27. So close, so close it would be a shame to have got this
close but they are all heros, get behind them again pick them up, yell
one more time.
Soak up the pressure forwards backs anybody tackle and tackle regroup
and tackle. Win a loose ball use it drive, retain possession, scrum
don't wheel keep the ball. it all happens first one way then the other,
then penalty to us middle of the pitch between half way and their 10m
line. Mason, he has done it before on other occassions from further, but
now under this pressure from here, it looks a long way, should we have
gone for touch inside their 22 and our lineout. He steps to the side and
then forward and up in the air it goes up and its coming down but not
untill it goes over the bar. The crowd go up, Mason is already on his
way back to fullback, he had no doubts. 33-27.
Hold them drive them into their half. Whistle at Fleming that might
help. Hold your breath. Scrum, who to , to them , must hold on defend
they are in their half. Not long now. Ball goes in we win it aginst the
head. Humphries goes blind down our touchline, their 22 he dummies a
kick but drops the ball, they dive in, who has it, regroup they drive in
the center, tackle must tackle can't let them through. Eventually they
run out of options and kick down our right inot the 22 and into touch.
Mason looks at Fleming and puts the ball into the stand. It is all over.
33-27 and I was there.