Munster 16-22 Ulster, Heineken Cup
Delighted McLaughlin pays tribute to Ulster
April 8, 2012
Stephen Ferris enjoys the win over Munster © Getty Images
Ulster boss Brian McLaughlin hailed his side in the wake of their win over Munster and described the victory as a "big highlight" of his career.
Ulster recorded a 22-16 win to become only the second team to beat Munster at Thomond Park in the history of the competition, joining Leicester who won a pool game there in January 2007. McLaughlin said: "Unbelievable. It was a big highlight in my career, probably the biggest day in my life in rugby terms.
"It is also important to mention the impact and energy we gleaned from our fans in the stadium. The support was outstanding."
Ruan Pienaar had a key kicking contribution of 14 points for the victors, landing four penalties from five attempts and converting a sensational early try from the nippy Craig Gilroy. Pienaar's half-back partner Ian Humphreys, who helped Leicester claim that famous win five years ago, also weighed in with a drop goal to give the Ulstermen a 19-0 advantage.
Simon Zebo got over in the left corner before half-time for his fourth try of the campaign, and Ronan O'Gara kicked 11 points to give Munster a decent shot at pulling off a remarkable comeback. But Ulster stood firm to set up a semi-final meeting with Edinburgh at the Aviva Stadium on April 28.
"Ruan's place-kicking was exemplary and Craig Gilroy's try, to be 19-0 up after 25 minutes was a dream," McLaughlin said. "We played brilliantly. It was our game plan personified. We knew Munster were going to come at us and they certainly did. To be 19-10 at half-time, (our captain) Johann Muller said if we were given that beforehand, we would have taken it.
"We knew after half-time it was going to be another battle. We talked about that all week as well. All credit to the guys on the pitch, they were magnificent today."
He added: "Today is the culmination of three years' really hard work. We have been emphasising the whole way through the importance of getting Ulster up the ladder and getting to that top table. We are not there yet. We are under no illusions. Edinburgh showed in their quarter-final win over Toulouse what they can do and it is all set up for another magnificent semi-final."
Ulster captain Johann Muller described the result as a "special" victory. "It was a special effort from everyone, not just players- and management-wise, everyone," said the South African lock. "We had some time to prepare for this. We knew it was going to be extremely physical when you are playing a champion side like Munster.
"The start was something special. Hats off to the guys, to make sure we got the victory, is a special thing and a special victory for everyone."
Munster head coach Tony McGahan, who returns to his native Australia this summer, was hugely disappointed by the result. "It is difficult to put it into words at this stage. You need to give the opposition credit. I thought Ulster were terrific today right across the park," he said. "They got into a substantial lead. Three penalty kicks from inside their own half. They controlled the scoreboard and they controlled field position in that first half.
"Full credit to the Munster team for the way they fought back to 19-13. But when Ulster pushed out to 22-13 it put a big dent in what we were trying to do."
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