A Brief History of Ulster Rugby
In 1868 the North of Ireland Football Club was founded. They were the very first rugby club in Ulster.. Although NIFC no longer exists there are still other clubs operating from that era including Queen’s University.
NIFC was a very successful club. They won 18 Ulster Senior Cups and 18 Ulster Senior League titles. In 1999 they formed the Belfast Harlequins after merging with Collegians.
Ulster played Leinster in 1875 in the first Irish interprovincial match. Ulster won. The same year Ireland played their first international match taking on England. Ulster supplied 8 players with England winning by one goal to nil (the scoring system was slightly different back then).
In 1979 the Northern Football Union of Ireland merged with the Irish Football Union who were looking after Ulster Rugby then. This led to provincial branches being formed for Munster, Leinster and Ulster. Connacht was not founded until 1885.
Irish Interprovincial Championship & Amateur Teams
Until the advent of the professional game players would play for their teams and then from 1946 onwards they played annually in the Irish Interprovincial Championships. Before this the provincial teams were used as competition for international teams on tour and the interprovincial games themselves as trials for Ireland games.
In 1995 Ulster turned professional. The ban on professionalism was lifted and that year all Irish provinces turned professional. In 1998-1999 Ulster won the Heineken Cup against French side US Colomiers. They became the first Irish province to win with a 21-6 win over their opponents at Lansdowne Road.
From 2001 to 2006 Ulster took the bull by the horns and took on the professional game with gusto. They employed former Springboks assistant coach Alan Solomons. Over the next three years Ulster didn’t lose one home game in the Heineken Cup.
During this period Ulster won the first Celtic Cup in 2003 beating Edinburgh and scored famous victories including a 33-0 pounding of Leicester Tigers in the Heineken Cup.
Ulster won the Celtic League in 2005-2006 which they led for most of the season. Ulster showed dominant forward play utilising Isaac Boss and Justin Harrison. However during the run in for the season Ulster suffered from some middling to inconsistent form. Because of this slip it meant that it came down to the last game.
Leinster went into their last game knowing either they or Ulster would win the league. Ulster were playing against the Ospreys. Ulster were losing by a point when David Humprhreys kicked a drop goal from 40 metres out and took the league.
It all started promisingly for the new season. There was a fine win over Toulouse that Ulster won 30-3 in the Heineken Cup but that was followed by some poor results and bad form. The European campaign ended swiftly and they ended fifth in the league.
2007 saw a string of poor results end in Mark McCall’s resignation and assistant coach Steve Williams stepped up to take charge temporarily. Ulster remained stuck at the bottom of the league and in December Matt Williams was named as the new head coach. That season they finished ninth and the following eighth. From the Heineken Cup and League winners Ulster were now constantly near the bottom of the league. Matt Williams resigned and was replaced by Brian McLaughlin. Changes were made. A new management team was in, a new stand and things improved including Ulster’s first ever win in England in the Heineken Cup against Bath. Results slid after Christmas however and the club ended the season in eighth again.
2010 and improvements
In 2010 Ruan Pienaar a World Cup winning Springbok arrived along with other signings in key positions. This led to a third place finish in the league and a quarter place in the Heineken Cup. The furthest Ulster had got since 1999.
The next season saw Ulster get to the Heineken Cup final where they lost comprehensively to Leinster 14-42 but it was the first final in thirteen years. Unfortunately the season ended poorly in sixth place.
2012 saw Ulster win 13 games in a row in all competitions. A club record ending with narrow defeat to Northampton Saints 10-9. Ulster topped their Heineken Cup group but went out at the quarter final stage.
The next year saw Ulster win all their Heineken Cup group games for the first time. 2014 and 2015 saw Ulster knocked out at the semi final stage of the Pro12 after finishing fourth two years in a row. In 2018-19 Dan McFarland was brought in as head coach where he remains.
Ireland’s most northern province is full of things to do including Portsalon Beach, Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway. The nightlife is fantastic with bars and clubs and great restaurants offering top quality food. Hire a car if you are visiting so you can spend time visiting the amazing sights Ulster has to offer.
If you are hoping for a casino night then that is where Ulster disappoints. The strict gambling laws forbid traditional casinot from opening. This may change in the future so people will be able to enjoy blackjack, poker and slots. In the meantime you will be able to login to a website without any issue for online games and sports betting.
Indeed there are major casino operators just waiting for the expected law changes as they look to build a super casino in Belfast. Casinos can benefit local areas by creating employment for hundreds of people in full time and part time positions. Plus the local tourism can be improved by people travelling for a weekend away and a night at the casino. There are still many other ways to bet on rugby and other sporting events such as online casinó.
In the meanwhile enjoy the sights and try to take in some rugby while you are visiting Ulster. Check for updates on any restrictions due to the recent lockdown first.