Saturday’s hard fought Pool 4 battle with Clermont Auvergne at the Stade Marcel Michelin marked Ulster’s 100th match in the Heineken Cup.
Heineken Cup Ambassador and former French international Raphael Ibanez presented Ulster Branch President Laurence Caldwell with a plaque prior to the game to mark the province’s 100th outing in the tournament.
Ulster played their first game in the then European Cup back in November 1995 against Cardiff at the Arms Park with a team that included Gary Longwell, Neil Doak and Jonny Bell, who are all now involved in the coaching set-up.
The Ulster side were on the wrong end of a 46-6 defeat that day, a far cry from their performance in their 100th game in Clermont where they lost narrowly 19-15 but still progress to the knockout stages of the competition.
They will travel to Thomond Park to face provincial rivals Munster in the last-eight in April, and head coach Brian McLaughlin feels that their recent performances show his side are now genuine contenders for the title.
“We came here (to Clermont) with high hopes and full of confidence and I’m very proud of what this Ulster squad did on the day,” he said.
“I was really pleased with the way we competed and the way we took the sting out of Clermont when they were running everything in the first 20 minutes.
“Our set scrum was good, we showed that we can create chances and our collisions and our work in the contact area have improved immensely.
“We’re in a quarter-final and we backed up what we did last week. We wanted to show that we’re proper contenders in this competition, that we can be talked about in the same breath as Leinster, Munster and Toulouse, and I felt we did that.”