Ulster head coach Dan McFarland hailed the efforts of his side after a 26-22 victory over Racing 92 left them in a strong position to qualify from Champions Cup Pool Four.
Jacob Stockdale starred again for Ulster with two tries, with their other score coming from debutant winger Robert Baloucoune, and McFarland admitted it was a special result.
“In the context of who we were playing against and the excitement of the rugby and some of the execution of the plays, it’s certainly up there,” he said.
“When you add into that the atmosphere in the stadium then wow, it was awesome.”
McFarland also applauded the performance of Ireland star Stockdale, saying: “He’s got a bit of stardust hasn’t he?
“There are a lot of tired bodies in our changing room and when you spend a lot of the second half chasing after guys like Leone Nakarawa and his off-loads, and Virimi Vakatawa, that’s hard work.”
Ulster now go to Leicester Tigers for the final round of games sitting in second place on 18 points, three behind pool leaders Racing, who took two points from their first defeat of the campaign.
“We’ve put things back in our control. That’s how we’re looking at it,” said McFarland.
“Forgetting the table, what a great place to try and go and win in a tight situation in European rugby. They are playing some nice rugby now and we’ll look forward to that,” he added of the trip to Welford Road, where victory will put them in the last eight.
“We’re going there to win. That’s what it’s about.”
Racing scored four tries through Virimi Vakatawa, Simon Zebo, Brice Dulin and Oliver Klemenczak and came back after trailing 23-10 early in the second half, though Finn Russell missed three conversions.
However, Racing lock Leone Nakarawa remains confident his side will top the group, saying: “We still have the advantage.
“Our boys play as a family together and our aim is to win but I think we were unlucky here. But the bonus points will help us move forward from here.
“I think we started a bit slowly but though we came back it was too late.”
Juan Imhoff had a try disallowed late in the game for a forward pass but Nakarawa did not feel it was a harsh call.
He said: “I think it was a forward pass, but the game is the game, sometimes you are unlucky and we can’t change anything now.”
Munster took a giant step towards the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals and dumped Gloucester out of Europe by crushing them 41-15 at Kingsholm.
Fly-half Joey Carbery ran the show, bumping his opposite number Danny Cipriani off centre-stage through a brilliant 26-point haul that included two tries.
Centre Rory Scannell and wings Keith Earls and Andrew Conway also touched down, although there was a possible concern for Ireland boss Joe Schmidt ahead of the Six Nations when Munster captain Peter O’Mahony went off nursing what appeared to be a rib injury just after half-time.
Gloucester managed tries by wing Ollie Thorley and prop Fraser Balmain, plus a Billy Twelvetrees penalty and conversion, yet they remain bottom of Pool Two after Munster opened up an eight-point lead at the top.
And the Irish heavyweights, who claimed a five-point maximum from their west country victory, will be guaranteed a place in the last eight if they beat current Gallagher Premiership leaders Exeter in Limerick next Saturday.
Cipriani returned after missing Gloucester’s last three games due to a chest injury suffered in the Champions Cup home defeat against Exeter, while Thorley also featured and Franco Mostert switched from lock to blindside flanker.
Munster head coach Johann Van Graan, meanwhile, made a number of changes from the side that beat Guinness PRO14 opponents Connacht last weekend, including starts for Scannell, Mike Haley and Dave Kilcoyne.
Kingsholm was packed to the rafters, including a sizeable Munster contingent, and Gloucester made a bright start as they dominated early territory before their opponents sought a foothold.
Twelvetrees opened the scoring with a 45-metre penalty after 14 minutes, but Munster began to exert pressure through scrum-half Conor Murray’s exemplary tactical kicking, and Carbery booted an equalising penalty six minutes later.
And even when Gloucester infringed close to halfway, there was no escape from Carbery as he kicked another penalty to open up a 10-point lead for his team and send warning signals flashing around Kingsholm.
But matters continued to deteriorate for Gloucester, and they were stung by a second Munster try during the dying moments of a one-sided first half.
With Murray expertly calling the shots, Munster went through numerous phases of patient build-up play before Scannell brushed aside Gloucester wing Charlie Sharples’ weak challenge to touch down.
Carbery added the conversion to put Munster almost out of sight at the break, leading by 17 points and aiming to take a vice-like grip on their qualifying group.
Gloucester had to score first in the second period, and they duly obliged following a punishing passage of play after O’Mahony went off.
Munster were forced into a prolonged rearguard action as Gloucester went through 35 phases before Cipriani’s long floated pass found an unmarked Thorley, who continued his rich vein of form by crossing unopposed.
Twelvetrees missed the angled conversion attempt, but no sooner had Gloucester given themselves a glimmer of hope than Munster ruthlessly snuffed it out when replacement back-row forward Billy Holland delivered a brilliant off-load to Earls, who dived over.
Conway then unluckily saw a try disallowed following a forward pass by centre Chris Farrell, but Munster were home and dry, even before Conway crossed and Carbery claimed an interception score to compound Gloucester’s misery, with Carbery also contributing five conversions and two penalties.
Provides by Press Association Sport
Former Wales and British & Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips has left Jebel Ali Dragons by mutual consent after six months in charge of the reigning West Asia champions.
The signing of the former Scarlets, Blues, Ospreys and Racing 92 No9 caused shockwaves in UAE rugby when it was announced in June, with the 36-year-old taking over from another famous name in Henry Paul – who left to be another former Welsh international Kingsley Jones’ No2 at Canada.
After delivering the West Asia Premiership title last season – Dragons’ maiden trophy in four years – they have struggled under Phillips in 2018/19. They have lost five of their nine games this season and sit fifth in the standings, a distant 19 points off table-topping Bahrain, and were dumped out of the Dubai Rugby Sevens, losing 21-19 in the semi-finals to champions Dubai Hurricanes.
Phillips has already been replaced, with former Scotland Under-16 and Caledonia academy coach Colin Philips named his successor.
Despite their travails, chairman Stuart Quinn insisted club and head coach parted on amicable terms, revealing the “Mike Phillips effect” has had a huge impact on the club.
“Mike and myself sat down about what was going to be happening in the second half of the season,” Quinn told Sport360.
“We’re still in all four competitions so we wanted to talk about what we were going to do. But with Mike’s fledgling academy, media duties and new baby, we both realised he wasn’t going to be able to dedicate the time to the role that he felt it deserved.
“With a new-born baby and a lack of availability throughout the upcoming Six Nations, it was going to make it hard for both of us, so we agreed it was for the best.
“We decided to part ways, which was mutual. We’ve loved having him and he was great for us. He wished us the best of luck and we’ve now moved on to Colin, who’s a hands-on type of guy.”
Phillips is the joint sixth most capped Welshman of all-time with 94 games for the Dragons, alongside Colin Charvis and Jamie Roberts. He represented the Lions on five occasions during the 2009 and 2013 tours to South Africa and Australia respectively.
He only retired in 2017 and quickly moved out to the UAE, where he established his Mike Phillips Rugby Academy alongside Just Play in that December.
Namesake Philips, who is now working with UAE national team coach Apollo Perelini at his own rugby academy, will be in charge of Dragons for Friday’s game at home against Dubai Eagles as the Premiership season resumes.
“The Mike Phillips effect means that on Friday I’ll be fielding three full strength teams in Abu Dhabi, and two games against Eagles,” added Quinn.
“The club’s doubled in size this year with the kids section taking off. It’s been great all-round having him. It’s obviously sad but to see him go but life moves on and we wish him all the best with his academy, and hope for a good weekend.”
In Friday’s other games, Hurricanes host league leaders Bahrain, while second-placed Abu Dhabi Harlequins welcome Dubai Exiles.