Click here for photos of Ulster’s nerve-jangling victory at the Ospreys. The result secured them the Celtic League title, adding to their previous Heineken Cup (1999) and Celtic Cup (2004) successes.
Pictured above: Ulster prop Justin Fitzpatrick tries to hand off Ospreys winger Shane Williams, with Andrew Maxwell in support. Fitzpatrick, who earned 26 caps for Ireland, is one of four surviving members from Ulster’s 1999 Heineken Cup final-winning squad – David Humphreys, Bryn Cunningham and Jonny Bell being the others.
Andrew Trimble, one of the new breed, who acknowledged that winning the Celtic League is only “the first step” for a hungry Ulster side. The powerful centre scored six tries in 16 League appearances. It has certainly been a fairtyale first season for the 21-year-old Trimble, who made his Ireland debut last autumn and was part of the side that won the Triple Crown at Twickenham in March.
Ulster’s hero David Humphreys launches over the match-winning drop goal against the Ospreys. A 75th-minute try from Ospreys scrum half Jason Spice had Ulster behind and in danger of losing their grip on the Celtic League trophy, but the 35-year-old Humphreys stepped up, three minutes later, to strike a brilliant 40-metre drop goal which grazed in off the right upright.
Ulster coach Mark McCall said: “Well it speaks volumes for David as a person and a player. He misses a couple of penalties that he would expect to get and then drops a goal from 40 metres.”
Referee David Changleng’s final whistle sends the Ulster players into celebration mode. It was an historic triumph for the province who have now won a unique trio of trophies – the Heineken Cup (1999), the Celtic Cup (2004) and the Celtic League (2006). The title win means Ulster will be Ireland’s number one seeds in the draw for the 2006/07 Heineken Cup.
Ulster’s stand-in captain Justin Harrison – regular skipper Simon Best was injured (fractured ankle) – lifts the Celtic League trophy at the Liberty Stadium.
Justin Harrison gives a glimpse of the trophy to the Ulster fans, who bolstered the 10,316 attendance in Swansea. The Australian lock, who only started playing rugby after finishing high school, played 21 times for Ulster in the Celtic League this season – proving himself to be a vital cog in only his first year at Ravenhill.
Justin Harrison and Mark McCall both acknowledged that the Ulster supporters “had been brilliant all season.” The Ravenhill roar was on the march in the lead-up to Friday’s Celtic League decider with Ravenhill announcer Michael McLean even organising a special day return charter flight for fans of the men in white.
David Humphreys cannot hide his glee as he raises the trophy to the jubilant Ulster fans. The Dungannon clubman captained Ulster to Heineken Cup glory in 1999, when present coach Mark McCall was forced to retire due to a neck injury.
**All photos by Huw Evans on behalf of Inpho Photography**