It’s been a frustrating couple of years for Ulster Rugby in Europe – after reaching the Heineken Cup final in 2012, they’ve reached the quarter-final stage twice, but have also failed to get out of the group stages both of the last two seasons. But there’s a sense that times are changing in Belfast…
With the big-name signings of players such as Rodney Ah You, Marcell Coetzee and All Black superstar Charles Piutau, the sense that Ulster are building a team that can make an impact on the Champions Cup is building, and to mark the occasion, the province has released its first ever bespoke European jersey.
Spotters might know that Ulster have worn a European jersey once before – they had a blue Euro change shirt back in 2010, but it was only worn against Biarritz, mainly because they were a flippin’ colour clash nightmare that year. This year’s shirt will be worn both home and away.
The most striking thing about this shirt is of course the primary colour used – the scarlet red is a colour that has the happiest of associations for Ulster rugby fans in a European sense. Back in 1999 of course, Ulster became the first Irish side to lift the Heineken Cup wearing their red alternate shirt for their final victory in Dublin – a jersey that we love so much we picked it as one of our favourite shirts of the 90s, no less.
The ’99 jersey memorably had red and white hooped sleeves, and the hoopy theme is continued in subtle but rather lovely style here with some tonal pinstriped hoops that run up the front of the back of the jersey, aside from a striking white band that runs across the chest, joining up the white sleeves – it’s a lovely mix of Ulster past and present.
The nods to that memorable day in 1999 don’t stop there either – on the side panels of the jersey, there’s a subtle illustration representing Champions Cup trophy, and set into this is a single star, designed to represent the single European title the province has won. Usually teams will stick a star above the badge for each European title, so this is a cool, individual spin on it.
Ulster have never had a European shirt in their history, but this is a fantastic debut. With a deep, talented squad and a shirt that pays tribute to the triumph of 17 years ago in the most modern and striking way, we have a feeling this could be an exciting European season for the Ulstermen.