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Ulster chase European glory

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A humiliation in Dublin will be forgotten, as Ulster chase European glory - Neil Best

Surround yourself with people who are going to lift you higher

Twenty years ago, this month, my Dad fell in love with rugby. Standing up at the old Lansdowne Road, his face painted with a large red hand – he roared Ulster home in our one and only European Cup Final win. He’s not the only convert, I was in the schools’ area, like many others, completely in awe of the huge sea of red and white Ulster support.  For sporting – and other reasons –  it’s hard to describe just how much that team inspired people and gave hope.

Their names are still rightly revered on the terraces and stands of the now Kingspan Stadium, yet no one in Dublin that afternoon thought twenty years on there would be no repeat, and no new names on Ulster’s European roll of honour.

The final wasn’t a great game, the game to remember was the Ravenhill semi-final win over Stade Francais, when it seemed at times that David Humphreys had ready access to magic. And sometimes that happens in team sport, one or two players find a peak that lifts a team and lifts the players around them – you just need the team to be involved in those big games to capitalise on it.

Twenty years on Ulster have carved out another chance to be involved in those big games. Honestly, I didn’t expect Ulster to be able to get enough from the double header against Scarlets to still be in contention, but they lifted themselves and picked up ten points, creating a realistic opportunity of a European quarter-final.

There is a downside of course, Leinster this weekend must be written off. Even with a full-strength team, to win away at Leinster would be a big ask for Ulster. The Belfast team’s lack of strength in depth might be exposed in Dublin this weekend. But it will also prove right the decision to rest key players before star laden Racing 92 arrive in Belfast the following week. A humiliation in Dublin will be forgotten, if Ulster can do to Racing what they’ve done to so many French teams in Belfast over the years.

Against Racing it will be the forwards once again under the microscope. The lesson of the last few weeks has been clear. When Ulster achieve parity in the scrum and lineout – they win, and when they don’t -they lose. Iain Henderson an undoubted loss, he is one of those players capable of lifting his game, showing a little magic and inspiring others – but he’s not the only one at Ulster. Addison and Stockdale are potential match winners, Jordi Murphy is looking better and better for Ulster every time he plays -and don’t forget John Cooney.

Sometimes not getting the recognition you maybe deserve at international level, can impact your club form – I’ve experienced it. But last season he single-handedly lifted Ulster time and time again. And a bit like David Humphreys, Cooney has the ability to conjure magic. Ulster fans should keep faith, it’s only a matter of time till he does it again.

Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that you can make anything happen.

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A humiliation in Dublin will be forgotten, as Ulster chase European glory - Neil Best