Heineken Cup heroes: David Humphreys
This week’s Heineken Cup hero is 1999 winning captain and one half of one of the most famous rivalries in Irish Rugby, David Humphreys.
As it was so often his career, David Humphreys’ timing was perfect when he came to Ulster at the beginning of the 1998/99 season.
The diminutive fly-half had played for London Irish for a spell at the advent of the professional era, but returned home just in time for what would be the most memorable year in the province’s history.
Ulster, of course, won the Heineken Cup in Dublin that year but the prospect of silverware looked a distant hope in the early stages of the competition.
Having drawn a high-scoring encounter with Edinburgh in the first game of the pool, Ulster were tonked by a Toulouse side that had already put up over 100 points over Welsh side Ebbw Vale in their first pool match and looked for all the world as if they would end up as pool winners.
With Humphreys influential at out half, Ulster won all of the remaining games in the pool but had Ebbw Vale to thank for winning top spot after the most unlikely home defeat of Toulouse in the final pool game.
As luck would have it, Ulster had to face Toulouse again in the quarters because of the qualifying system at the time (best ranked pool winners face lowest ranked pool runners-up and so on), but they emerged four-point winners, setting up a semi-final meeting with Stade Francais in Ravenhill again.
It was in this game that Humphreys scored what he regards as his best ever try and one that was voted as the third best try in the history of the Heineken Cup as Humphreys’ chip from well inside his own half was gathered by winger Sheldon Coulter, who fed the onrushing Humphreys again on the right wing.
The out-half had plenty left to do but showing pace that was perhaps unheralded throughout his career, he hot-footed it to the line and touched down to help Ulster to a memorable win.
The final against Colomiers in Dublin was not as memorable, but Humphreys – who dropped a goal during the game – and Ulster didn’t care less as he lifted the Heineken Cup for the first and only time in the province’s history.
Humphreys never quite partied like it was 1999 in the Heineken Cup again as it was 2010 before the Red Handers returned to the knockout stages. Still, that didn’t stop him from achieving some impressive personal milestones in the competition.
As well as having his try above ranked as the third best in the competition’s history, Humphreys is the fifth top scorer since the dawn of the Heineken Cup with 564 points, with only stellar names such as Dimitri Yachvili, Diego Dominguez, Stephen Jones and Ronan O’Gara (out on his own on top by well over 400 points) having scored more.
Humphreys continues to strive to achieve more for Ulster in his role as Director of Rugby and if the evidence of the season so far is anything to go by, Ulster will be well in the hunt for silverware at the business end of the season.
If the current crop can follow the example set by Humphreys in his playing days, they certainly won’t be far off.