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Ulster Legend Humphreys Bids Farewell

Ulster Legend Humphreys Bids Farewell

David Humphreys will bid an emotional farewell to the Ulster and Irish rugby public tonight as he lines out for Ulster for the 163rd and final time. But with it being his first game in four months, Humphreys is not sure how long he will last against the Cardiff Blues at Ravenhill.

Incredibly, it was 16 years ago that Humphreys made his debut for Ulster, in a game against Cumbria in Cockermouth. Some memorable performances for province and country have followed from the Ballymena man, who captained Ulster in their 1999 Heineken Cup final win over Colomiers at Lansdowne Road.

But it is his heroics at Ravenhill that many supporters will most remember – who could forget his brilliant try in the 1999 Heineken Cup semi-final over Stade Francais or his stunning 37-point haul against Wasps in the Heineken Cup pool stages in 2001?

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In all, Humphreys has scored 1,585 points (27 tries, 179 conversions, 326 penalties and 38 drop goals) for Ulster to date and he will be out for more in his last ever game.

The 36-year-old solicitor also had an impressive international career and was Ireland’s top points scorer until Ronan O’Gara, his great rival for the number 10 jersey, took over.

His control of games was top class and his superb footballing skills, allied to his ability to kick crucial points and conjure up a moment of magic in midfield or out wide, made him one of Ireland’s greatest ever out-halves.

He won 72 Test caps in all, the last of which was against Romania at Lansdowne Road in November 2005 when he captained his country for the fifth time. His 560-point tally includes 26-point hauls against both Scotland and Italy in 2003 and also a crucial eight points in the Brian O’Driscoll-inspired defeat of France in Paris in 2000.

Now having recovered from a troublesome Achilles injury, Humphreys is ready for one final game with Ulster. Starting the province’s Magners League clash with Cardiff hands him a deserved chance to bow out on a winning note.

“It’s going to be a great occasion, I’m really looking forward to it. I think a few months ago I thought I wasn’t going to get the opportunity to come out and play again so thanks to the medical staff – they’ve put a lot of hard work into it – I’m going to get out and have a little bit of a run-about,” he said in a radio interview.

Asked if he is contemplating playing the full 80 minutes, Humphreys admitted: “That’s not something I’ve even considered. Over the last couple of weeks it’s just been about getting fit enough to play.

“I’m going into the game with the mindset that I’m going to play as much as I can. If that’s 80 minutes then great but if not, there’s a couple of boys who are itching to get back on the pitch again.”

After so many years at the top, coping without professional rugby can be hard for an ex-player but Humphreys explained that his injury-ravaged final season has allowed him some time to adjust to what life will be like away from the game.

“I’ve said before that I think this year has almost eased the transition away from a professional sporting life. I’ve hardly played any rugby this year, I’ve only had four or five games and because of that, you haven’t been travelling on away weekends and you haven’t been training like everyone else.

“It will obviously be a massive change having enjoyed the professional lifestyle and enjoyed some fantastic times here (at Ravenhill). I’m going to miss it but at the same time, everyone moves on and I’m ready to do that.”

He revealed that Ulster coach Matt Williams had played a part in convincing him that he could get fit for a final send-off in front of a bumper Ravenhill crowd. 

He added: “I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve had a fantastic career. I’ve enjoyed almost every minute of it and I’ll look forward to coming back to Ravenhill and supporting Ulster hopefully as they start to move back up the ladder in terms of European rugby.

“I thought I had finished playing rugby a couple of months ago but Matt persuaded me to stay on just to try and play one more game. Now that I’m here I’m looking forward to it. This will definitely be the last time I pull on a rugby jersey.

“It’s a funny thing, over the last few weeks you know you’re getting close to retirement because people who have spent a lot of time criticising you suddenly start saying nice things about you!”

The Belfast ground is sure to be packed tonight for Ulster’s final game of the season as they say goodbye to not only Humphreys but also a number of players who are heading for pastures new – Tommy Bowe, Roger Wilson, Neil Best, Justin Harrison, Kieran Campbell, Neil McMillan, Mark Bartholomeusz and Niall Conlon.

“A number of us are playing our last game for Ulster and we all want to go out on a high for the guys who are staying. We want to finish this season the way Ulster want to start next season,” Humphreys insisted.