|Location||Belfast, Northern Ireland|
|Ground(s)||Ravenhill Stadium (Capacity: 18,196)|
|Most caps||Andrew Trimble & Darren Cave (229)|
|Top scorer||David Humphreys (1,585)|
|Most tries||Andrew Trimble (76)|
|League(s)||United Rugby Championship|
|2020–21||2nd (Conference A)|
The team represents the IRFU Ulster Branch, which is one of the four primary branches of the IRFU and is responsible for rugby union throughout the geographical Irish province of Ulster, comprising Northern Ireland (Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone) and three counties in the Republic of Ireland which are Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan.
A number of clubs were operating in Ulster prior to the foundation of the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Ulster branch. The Belfast-based Northern Ireland F.C., founded in 1868, was the earliest club to operate in the province. Clubs from this era still in existence include Dungannon and Queen's University. The first Irish inter-provincial game took place in 1875 between Ulster and Leinster, with Ulster being the victors. In Ireland's first international match, which was played in 1875 against England, eight Ulster-based players took part. Rugby in Ulster at this time was mostly overseen by the Irish Football Union, with the Northern Football Union of Ireland controlling the game in Belfast. The two unions amalgamated in 1879, with the provincial branches of Ulster, Leinster and Munster being founded as part of the terms of this arrangement. The final Irish provincial side, Connacht, was founded in 1885.
Amateur era (1879–1995)
During the amateur era Irish players primarily played for their respective clubs, with provincial games effectively treated as Irish trial matches. The provincial teams were also used to provide competitive club opposition for touring international sides. Inter-provincial games were played on an irregular basis but starting in the 1946–47 season, the provinces played against each other in the annual Irish Interprovincial Championship. Ulster won this tournament 26 times in total, with eight of these titles being shared. The team's greatest period of success was in the 1980s and 1990s when they won ten titles in a row.
Professional success (1999–2006)
From 2001 to 2004, the Ulster team was coached by Alan Solomons, a former assistant coach of the Springboks and head coach of The Stormers and Western Province in his native South Africa. It was during this time that Ulster fully embraced the professional era.
Alan Solomons coached Ulster to a three-year unbeaten home record in the Heineken Cup. In the 2003–04 season, Ulster finished second in the Celtic League, only overtaken by Llanelli on the final day of the campaign. Two of Ulster's most impressive achievements in this period were a 33–0 win over English giants Leicester Tigers in the Heineken Cup in January 2004, and winning the inaugural Celtic Cup on 20 December 2003, beating Edinburgh in a rain-soaked Murrayfield final.
In July 2004, Solomons departed for Northampton Saints and Mark McCall, former captain of the province and a member of Ulster's European Cup winning squad, took over as Ulster Rugby head coach with European Cup teammate Allen Clarke as his assistant. Despite an initially poor start to the season, the two extended Ulster's unbeaten home record in Europe to four years.
Ulster led the Celtic league for most of the 2005–06 season thanks to dominant forward play largely inspired by Australian import Justin Harrison, New Zealand-born Irish scrum-half Isaac Boss, and a rapid maturing of a youthful home-grown three-quarter line. However, inconsistent late form from Ulster, combined with a late run from Leinster, meant that either of those sides could take the title in the final game of the season. In Ulster's final match against the Ospreys with Ulster one point behind, David Humphreys kicked a 40-metre drop goal to clinch the game and the league for Ulster.
Ulster started the 2006–07 season in fine form racking up a number of victories including a 30–3 thrashing of Heineken Cup contenders Toulouse. However, following an abject display losing 29–13 to London Irish, their season deteriorated with a number of poor performances, including several home defeats, leading to a fifth-place finish in the Celtic League and another early exit from Europe.
The team began the 2007–08 season with a terrible run of form. Mark McCall resigned in November following Ulster's embarrassing 32–14 home defeat to Gloucester in the opening round of the 2007–08 Heineken Cup. Assistant coach Steve Williams took temporary charge of the team. Under Williams, Ulster had some initial success, however several defeats left them firmly rooted to the bottom of the Celtic League and out of Europe. In December, former Leinster and Scotland head coach Matt Williams was named Mark McCall's successor as Ulster's head coach. He took charge at the beginning of February 2008, but despite some improved performances, he failed to turn the season around, with Ulster finishing 9th in the 10 team Celtic League.
On 21 May 2009, Matt Williams resigned as Ulster's head coach after finishing 8th in the Celtic League that season. He was replaced by Brian McLaughlin as head coach, with Jeremy Davidson and Neil Doak as his assistants, and former Ulster and Ireland outhalf David Humphreys taking on the role as director of rugby.
The 2009–10 season brought many changes to Ulster, as they got new management staff, a newly improved Heineken Cup campaign including their first ever win in England against Bath Rugby, a new stand at Ravenhill, and new fans as more people started to support the team. But Ulster finished eighth place in the Celtic League again, due to a series of disappointing results in the league since Christmas.
The 2010–11 season was even better for Ulster, as they signed key players including 2007 Rugby World Cup winning Springbok Ruan Pienaar. Ulster reached the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup for the first time since 1999 and finished third in the Celtic League.
The 2011–12 season brought even more success. Ulster beat Edinburgh to reach the Heineken Cup final for the first time in thirteen years. In the final, Ulster lost 14–42 to Leinster at Twickenham Stadium. In the Pro12, Ulster finished sixth after a disappointing finish to the season. Brian McLaughlin did not have his contract renewed as head coach at the end of the season.
For the 2012–13 season, Mark Anscombe was appointed as the new head coach. Major signings included Nick Williams from the now defunct Aironi and Tommy Bowe returning from his four-year stay at the Ospreys. Ulster started the season with 13 consecutive wins in all competitions, making it the longest unbeaten run in their history. It started on 31 August 2012 as they defeated Glasgow Warriors 18–10 in the Pro12 and it ended on 15 December 2012 as they lost 9–10 to Northampton Saints in the Heineken Cup. Despite finishing top of their Heineken Cup Group for the first time since the 1999 triumph, Ulster were defeated 27–16 by Saracens at the quarterfinal stage. Ulster finished top of the Pro12 table thereby giving them a home semi-final against the Scarlets. Ulster defeated the Scarlets 28–17 in the last match in front of the old grandstand before demolition. Due to the redevelopment of Ravenhill, Ulster played the Pro12 final at the RDS Arena in Dublin against Leinster losing 24–18.
The 2013–14 season proved trophyless again. For the first time, Ulster won all their Heineken Cup group games, with away victories against Montpellier and Leicester Tigers being the highlight. They were knocked out at the quarterfinal stage with a 17–15 home defeat to Saracens. The Pro12 season was racked with inconsistency and Ulster finished the league season in fourth place. This set up an away semi-final with Leinster, and for the fourth time in four seasons the season was ended by their old foes with a 13–9 defeat. The season ended with the retirements of captain Johann Muller, centre Paddy Wallace, and flanker Stephen Ferris. Director of Rugby David Humphreys also left the province to take up a similar position at Gloucester Rugby. Following Humphreys' departure, Mark Anscombe was sacked by the province and was replaced by Ireland defence coach Les Kiss on an interim basis.
The 2014–15 season saw Rory Best return to the captaincy, a position that he first held from 2007 to 2011, after the retirement of the now ex-captain Johann Muller. Ulster were knocked out of the new European Champions Cup at the group stage. They finished fourth in the Pro12 but narrowly lost in the playoff semifinal to eventual champions Glasgow Warriors.
2015–16 saw Neil Doak promoted to head coach with Les Kiss returning to the province after the 2015 Rugby World Cup to take up the full-time Director of Rugby role with the province. Ulster were knocked out of the Champions Cup at the group stage despite a memorable back to back win over Toulouse. They finished fourth in the Pro12 but again lost in the playoff semi final, this time to Leinster.
2016–17 was a disappointing season, finishing bottom of their Champions Cup group and finishing 5th in the Pro12. At the end of the season, all-time appearance holder Roger Wilson retired and Ruan Pienaar was controversially not awarded a new contract. Neil Doak and Allen Clarke also left the province being replaced by Jono Gibbes as head coach and Dwayne Peel as assistant coach.
For the 2018–19 season Dan McFarland was brought in as the new head coach.
Previous season summaries
|Domestic League||European Cup||Domestic / 'A' Cup|
|Season||Competition||Final Position (Pool)||Points||Play-Offs||Competition||Performance||Competition||Performance|
|1995–96||No competition||Heineken Cup||4th in pool||Interprovincial Championship||2nd|
|1996–97||No competition||Heineken Cup||4th in pool||Interprovincial Championship||3rd|
|1997–98||No competition||Heineken Cup||4th in pool||Interprovincial Championship||3rd|
|1998–99||No competition||Heineken Cup||Champions||Interprovincial Championship||2nd|
|1999–00||No competition||Heineken Cup||4th in pool||Interprovincial Championship||2nd|
|2000–01||No competition||Heineken Cup||4th in pool||Interprovincial Championship||2nd|
|2001–02||Celtic League||2nd (A)||13||Semi-final||Heineken Cup||2nd in pool||Interprovincial Championship||2nd|
|2002–03||Celtic League||3rd (A)||22||Semi-final||Heineken Cup||3rd in pool||No competition|
|2003–04||Celtic League||2nd||72||N/A||Heineken Cup||3rd in pool||Celtic Cup||Champions|
|2004–05||Celtic League||8th||43||N/A||Heineken Cup||3rd in pool||Celtic Cup||Quarter-final|
|2005–06||Celtic League||Champions||75||N/A||Heineken Cup||3rd in pool||No competition|
|2006–07||Magners League||5th||55||N/A||Heineken Cup||3rd in pool||No competition|
|2007–08||Magners League||9th||29||N/A||Heineken Cup||4th in pool||No competition|
|2008–09||Magners League||8th||36||N/A||Heineken Cup||3rd in pool||No competition|
|2009–10||Magners League||8th||36||Did not qualify||Heineken Cup||2nd in pool||British and Irish Cup||Semi-final|
|2010–11||Magners League||3rd||67||Semi-final||Heineken Cup||Quarter-final||British and Irish Cup||5th in pool|
|2011–12||RaboDirect PRO12||6th||56||Did not qualify||Heineken Cup||Runner-up||British and Irish Cup||Quarter-final|
|2012–13||RaboDirect PRO12||1st||81||Runner-up||Heineken Cup||Quarter-final||British and Irish Cup||2nd in pool|
|2013–14||RaboDirect PRO12||4th||70||Semi-final||Heineken Cup||Quarter-final||British and Irish Cup||2nd in pool|
|2014–15||Guinness PRO12||4th||69||Semi-final||Champions Cup||3rd in pool||British and Irish Cup||3rd in pool|
|2015–16||Guinness PRO12||4th||69||Semi-final||Champions Cup||2nd in pool||British and Irish Cup||3rd in pool|
|2016–17||Guinness PRO12||5th||68||Did not qualify||Champions Cup||4th in pool||British and Irish Cup||Quarter-final|
|2017–18||Guinness PRO14||4th (B)||62||Did not qualify||Champions Cup||3rd in pool||British and Irish Cup||Quarter-final|
|2018–19||Guinness PRO14||2nd (B)||63||Semi-final||Champions Cup||Quarter-final||Celtic Cup||3rd in pool|
|2019–20||Guinness PRO14||2nd (A)||44||Runner-up||Champions Cup||Quarter-final||Celtic Cup||Runner-up|
|2020–21||Guinness PRO14||2nd (A)||64||Did not qualify||Challenge Cup*||Semi-final||Rainbow Cup||10th in pool|
Gold background denotes champions
Silver background denotes runner-up
* After dropping into the competition from the Champions Cup/Heineken Cup
United Rugby Championship
|Team||P||W||D||L||PF||PA||PD||TF||TA||Try bonus||Losing bonus||Pts|
|If teams are level at any stage, tiebreakers are applied in the following order:
|Green background indicates teams that are playoff places that top their regional pools and earn a place in the 2022–23 European Champions Cup|
Blue background indicates teams that did not top their regional pool but are in play-off places and earn a place in the 2022–23 European Champions Cup
European Rugby Champions Cup
- European Rugby Champions Cup
- Celtic Cup
- Winners: 1 (2003–04)
- Irish Inter-Provincial Championships
- Winners: 26 (8 shared) (1946–47, 1950–51, 1951–52, 1953–54, 1955–56 (shared), 1956–57 (shared), 1966–67 (shared), 1967–68, 1969–70, 1970–71, 1972–73, 1974–75, 1975–76 (shared), 1976–77, 1977–78 (shared), 1982–83 (shared), 1984–85, 1985–86, 1986–87, 1987–88 (shared), 1988–89, 1989–90, 1990–91, 1991–92, 1992–93, 1993–94 (shared)
- Glasgow City Sevens
- Winners: 1 (2013–14)
The current crest was introduced in 2003. The new, stylised crest is made specific to Ulster Rugby as it incorporates the red hand from the provincial flag of Ulster with two rugby balls. The Ulster Rugby crest is on all official club merchandise including replica jerseys.
The Ravenhill Stadium, known for sponsorship reasons as the Kingspan Stadium since 2014, opened in 1923. It has hosted two Rugby World Cup matches, several Ireland national team matches, the 2015 Pro12 Grand Final and many 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup matches, including the final.
The Premium Stand opened in 2009 and the rest of the stadium got redeveloped from 2012 to 2014. After the rest of the redevelopment was completed, the stadium was renamed the Kingspan Stadium.
|Ulster Rugby United Rugby Championship squad[a]|
|(c) denotes the team captain, Bold denotes internationally capped players. |
* denotes players qualified to play for Ireland on residency or dual nationality.
ST denotes a short-term signing.
Players and their allocated positions from the Ulster Rugby website.
|Ulster Rugby Academy squad[a]|
|(c) denotes the team captain, Bold denotes internationally capped players, number in brackets indicates players stage in the three-year academy cycle. |
* denotes players qualified to play for Ireland on residency or dual nationality.
Players and their allocated positions from the Ulster Rugby website.
|Operations Director||Bryn Cunningham||Ireland|
|Head coach||Dan McFarland||England|
|Assistant Coach||Dan Soper||New Zealand|
|Defence Coach||Jared Payne||Ireland|
|Forwards Coach||Roddy Grant||Scotland|
|Skills Coach||Craig Newby||New Zealand|
Results versus representative sides
- Scores and results list Ulster's points tally first.
|December 1912||South Africa||Belfast||Lost||0–19||Match Report|
|5 November 1924||New Zealand||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||6–28|
|December 1931||South Africa||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||3–30||Match Report|
|30 November 1935||New Zealand||Ravenhill, Belfast||Draw||3–3||Match Report|
|1 December 1951||South Africa||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||5–27|
|2 January 1954||New Zealand||Ravenhill, Belfast||Draw||5–5||Match Report|
|30 November 1957||Australia||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||0–9||Match Report|
|28 January 1961||South Africa||Belfast||Lost||6–19|
|25 January 1964||New Zealand||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||5–24|
|29 November 1969||South Africa||Ravenhill, Belfast||Draw||0–0|
|18 November 1972||New Zealand||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||6–19|
|3 November 1973||Argentina XV||Ravenhill, Belfast||Won||23–13|
|16 November 1974||New Zealand||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||15–30|
|15 November 1975||Australia||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||25–30|
|7 November 1978||New Zealand||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||7–23|
|11 October 1980||Romania||Belfast||Lost||13–15|
|14 November 1981||Australia||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||6–12|
|14 November 1984||Australia||Ravenhill, Belfast||Won||15–13||Match Report|
|23 October 1985||Fiji||Belfast||Won||23–9|
|2 November 1988||Western Samoa||Ravenhill, Belfast||Won||47–15|
|21 November 1989||New Zealand||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||3–21|
|24 October 1992||Australia||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||11–35|
|16 November 1996||Australia||Ravenhill, Belfast||Lost||26–39|
|10 August 1998||Morocco||Ravenhill, Belfast||Won||50–5||Match Report|
|10 November 2008||Portugal||Ravenhill, Belfast||Won||62–6||Match Report|
|9 November 2018||Uruguay||Ravenhill, Belfast||Won||21–5|
Records against URC and European Cup opponents
|ASM Clermont Auvergne||6||3||0||3||50.00%|
|Ebbw Vale RFC||2||2||0||0||100.00%|
|*Matches played as part of the Irish Interprovincial Rugby Championship, separate from Celtic League fixtures, are not included in this table.|
| †Results do not include a match between the Benetton and Ulster declared a 0–0 draw due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nor do they include the cancelled |
Ulster vs Scarlets Rainbow Cup fixture in which Scarlets were awarded victory due to positive Covid tests in the Ulster squad.
Updated as of 7 December 2021.
Head coaches (professional era)
|Coach||Season(s)||GP*||W||D||L||Win %||Loss %||Championships / Notes|
|–||1995/96 – 1997/98||23||7||0||16||30.4%||69.6%|
|Harry Williams||1998/99 – 2000/01||41||18||2||21||43.9%||51.2%||European Cup (1998-99)|
|Alan Solomons||2001/02 – 2003/04||63||41||2||20||65.1%||31.7%||2003-04 Celtic Cup|
|Mark McCall||2004/05 – 2007/08 (mid-season)||91||46||3||42||50.5%||46.2%||2005-06 Celtic League|
|Steve Williams||2007/08 (mid-season)||8||2||0||6||25%||75%||Interim|
|Matt Williams||2007/08 (mid-season) – 2008/09||37||15||1||21||40.5%||56.8%|
|Brian McLaughlin||2009/10 – 2011/12||93||54||2||37||58.1%||39.8%|
|Mark Anscombe||2012/13 – 2013/14||69||47||5||17||68.1%||24.6%|
|Neil Doak||2014/15 (mid-season) – 2016/17||85||48||2||35||56.5%||41.2%|
|Dan McFarland||2018/19 –||93||58||3||32||62.4%||34.4%|
|*Games played are inclusive of matches played against touring international sides and friendlies against club opposition.|
Personnel honours and records
Bold indicates active player
European Rugby Champions Cup
(correct as of 8 March 2021)
United Rugby Championship
|Pens & Cons||David Humphreys||272||1996–2008|
(correct as of 25 October 2021)
Pro14 Team of the Year
|Competition||Irish players||Overseas players|
|2012–13||Luke Marshall||Nick Williams|
|2013–14||Andrew Trimble||Johann Muller|
|2014–15||Craig Gilroy, Rory Best||Franco van der Merwe|
|2015–16||Craig Gilroy (2)||—|
|2016–17||—||Ruan Pienaar (2), Charles Piutau|
|2018–19||John Cooney (2), Stuart McCloskey||—|
|2019–20||John Cooney (3), Stuart McCloskey (2)||—|
|2020–21||John Cooney (4), Michael Lowry, Eric O'Sullivan||Marcell Coetzee|
Pro14 Player of the Year
|Competition||Irish players||Overseas players|
Pro14 Individual Awards
|Top Try Scorer||Tommy Bowe (Joint)||2005–06||10|
|Craig Gilroy (Joint)||2015–16||10|
|Marcell Coetzee (Joint)||2020–21||9|
|Top Point Scorer||David Humphreys||2001–02||122|
|John Cooney (2) (Joint)||2020–21||113|
|Young Player of the Year||Luke Marshall||2012–13||N/A|
|Try of the Season||Andrew Trimble (Ulster vs Connacht)||2012–13||N/A|
|Craig Gilroy (Ulster vs Scarlets)||2014–15||N/A|
|Ruan Pienaar (Ulster vs Glasgow Warriors)||2016–17||N/A|
Pro14 Team Awards
British & Irish Lions
- Tommy Smyth: 1910
- Alexander Foster: 1910
- Robert Alexander: 1938
- George Cromey: 1938
- Harry McKibbin: 1938
- Paddy Mayne: 1938
- Jack Kyle: 1950
- Jimmy Nelson: 1950
- Robin Thompson: 1955
- Cecil Pedlow: 1955
- David Hewitt: 1959
- Raymond Hunter: 1962
- Willie John McBride: 1962, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1974
- Syd Millar: 1962, 1968
- Mike Gibson: 1966, 1968, 1971, 1974, 1977
- Roger Young: 1966, 1968
- Stewart McKinney: 1974
- Richard Milliken: 1974
- Colin Patterson: 1980
- David Irwin: 1983
- Trevor Ringland: 1983, 1986
- Nigel Carr: 1986
- Steve Smith: 1989
- Eric Miller: 1997
- Jeremy Davidson: 1997, 2001
- Tyrone Howe: 2001
- Stephen Ferris: 2009
- Tommy Bowe: 2009, 2013
- Rory Best: 2013, 2017
- Tom Court: 2013
- Iain Henderson: 2017, 2021
- Jared Payne: 2017
- Bold indicates player was tour captain for the year in question
Note: Phillip Matthews played for the Lions in their victory against France in Paris. The game formed part of the celebrations of the bi-centennial of the French Revolution, but did not count as a "formal" Lions international.
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