David Humphreys hails Ulster progress after Heineken semi win

David Humphreys and Brian McLaughlin
David Humphreys and Brian McLaughlin

Ulster director of rugby David Humphreys says he is surprised by the speed of the province's progress after they reached the Heineken Cup final.

"For us to be in a final is hard to believe given where we were three or four years ago," said Humphreys.

"A lot of people have put in a lot of planning for us to get to this stage.

"There is no doubt that things have moved quickly, but there are so many different variables, like injuries, sponsorship and the odd bit of luck."

Ulster reached the Twickenham decider by beating Edinburgh 22-19 at the Aviva Stadium.

"This is a big reward for the work the coaching staff have put in over the past few years and it is a huge thing for everyone connected with Ulster Rugby.

"The Heineken Cup is arguably now the best club competition in the world and it has certainly captured the public imagination.

"Our first priority was to close the gap on our Irish provincial neighbours and in that context the win over Munster at Thomond Park in the quarter-final was a massive victory.

"We then managed to get across the line against Edinburgh and although it was not our best team performance, there were some fine individual displays on the day."

Humphreys added that it was "always part of the plan to bring in quality players and to sell our vision of the future to them".

"The more successful we are the easier it becomes to sell that vision and when you're regularly competing against the top teams, it becomes easier to attract players.

"While the international players have played their part, a lot of the local players have made a name for themselves as well and it's been a real team effort.

"Now it's time for the players to recover from the bumps and bruises and look forward to a huge occasion for Ulster Rugby on 19 May.

"It's not about managing the expectations, but enjoying the whole experience and the excitement of the build-up.

"We must rely on the big players bringing their experience and that will bring confidence to the younger players."

Semi-final try-scoring hero Pedrie Wannenburg is hoping to end his Ulster career by clinching a Heineken Cup winners' medal on 19 May.

Wannenburg is leaving Ulster at the end of this season and is expected to move to a French club.

"This is one of my dreams, to win a Heineken Cup final," said the Springbok back-rower.

"I was fortunate to win a couple of Currie Cups and a couple of Super 14s and this is for sure up there in my career."

Wannenburg believes Ulster can up their performance in the final against Leinster after Saturday's high-pressure occasion.

"The semi-final is probably the worst game you can ever play," Wannenburg said.

"The pressure was on us to make a final. They were underdogs coming into it. We knew it would be a tough game.

"In a final, any team can win. We are there now. We can go and play."

Centre Paddy Wallace described the semi-final victory as his "greatest moment in an Ulster shirt".

"I have got a Heineken Cup final to look forward to now. It doesn't get much better than that," added the Ireland centre.

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