BEFORE THE PROFESSIONAL ERA
In the amateur Rugby Union era, Ulster's players trained and competed in their spare time and the team enjoyed considerable success, throughout the 1980's in particular. They regularly played international touring sides from the all over the world such as New Zealand, Australia and Italy. The Interprovincial Championship was viewed as a significant achievement in Irish rugby at the time, with Ulster competing against Munster, Connacht and Leinster for the title.
In the early 80's a number of Ulster players such as Colin Patterson, David Irwin, Trevor Ringland and Keith Crossan were selected for the Ireland squad which went on to win the Triple Crown. During the 1984-85 season, Ulster won the Interprovincial Championship for the first time since 1976. The Ulster side strengthened and in the same season they defeated Australia at the Ravenhill ground. Current Ulster Rugby Doctor, David Irwin, captained the side to a 15-13 win- Ulster's first victory over a major touring side with a now legendary performance.
The season signaled the start of Ulster's most successful period in their history and with the David Irwin/Willie Anderson axis controlling things on the field, Ulster either won or shared the interprovincial championship every season until the beginning of the professional era (more than any other Irish province) The form of the Ulster players was recognised when in 1987 eight Ulster players were selected to compete with Ireland in the Rugby World Cup where they progressed to the quarter finals.
BEGINNING OF THE PROFESSIONAL ERA
Harry Williams was Ulster's first coach in the professional era and presided over what is arguably the club's greatest achievement when the side lifted the European Cup in January 1999, defeating French side Colomiers, 21 - 6 in the final at Lansdowne Road. Just eight of the players in the squad during that season were playing rugby professionally with the majority of the squad "part-timers", combining a rugby career with a day job. From 2001-04 Ulster Rugby was coached by Alan Solomons, a former Assistant Coach of the Springboks and Head Coach at The Stormers and Western Province in his native South Africa. It was during this time that Ulster Rugby completely embraced the professional era with a roster of full-time players.
Solomons coached Ulster to a three year unbeaten home record in the Heineken Cup and in the 2003-04 season Ulster finished second in very a closely contested Celtic League Championship. Without doubt two of his greatest moments with Ulster included the winning of the Celtic Cup on 20th December 2003, defeating Edinburgh 27 - 21 at Murrayfield, and less than a month later, defeating English Premiership giants Leicester Tigers 33 - 0 in the Heineken Cup at home in Ravenhill.
2004 TO PRESENT
In July 2004, Mark McCall, himself a member of Ulster's European Cup winning side in 1999, took over the reins as Ulster Rugby Head Coach with European Cup team-mate Allen Clarke as his Assistant and in May 2006, Ulster Rugby were crowned Celtic League champions. In a league season which saw the team win 14, lose 5 and draw 1 match, the competition went down to the wire and Ulster lifted the trophy after defeating The Ospreys 19 - 17 at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea.
Celtic League Following the Celtic League success, the 2006-7 season failed to live up to expectations with Ulster dropping to 6th in the Magners League with a disappointing Heineken Cup campaign and in November 2007, Coach Mark McCall resigned. Assistant coach Steve Williams stepped in as Caretaker Coach until new Head Coach Matt Williams was appointed in February 2008. However, despite a difficult season, Ulster ended the 2007-08 season on a high by qualifying for the Heineken Cup.
Williams coached Ulster through the 2008-09 season but parted company with Ulster Rugby at the end of that campaign. Ulster went back to their roots, installing a home-grown management set-up with former Irish Skills Coach Brian McLaughlin at the helm. Ulster and Irish legend David Humphreys took on the role of Operations Director, while Jeremy Davidson and Neil Doak joined the set-up as Assistant Coaches.
World Cup winning Springboks Johann Muller and Ruan Pienaar joined the Province in 2011 and played a key role as Ulster reached the Heineken Cup quarter finals for the first time since 1999, losing 23-13 to eventual finalists Northampton Saints. The same season, Ulster reached the Magners League play-offs but lost to Leinster, who went on to beat the Saints in the Heineken Cup final.
The following year, Ulster reached the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup final for a second successive season. They beat Munster at Thomond Park in the quarter-final of the competition, a result that marked a milestone in the evolution of the club. Ulster then played Edinburgh in the semi-final at the Aviva Stadium and thanks to the boot of Ruan Pienaar, qualified for the Heineken Cup Final. In what was the final game under Head Coach Brian McLaughlin, Ulster lost the final to inter-provincial rivals Leinster at Twickenham.
Mark Anscombe became the first New Zealander to coach Ulster in 2012 and began his time in charge by leading the Province to 16 games unbeaten. The 2012/13 season saw Ulster beat Castres in the Heineken Cup and record the club's first ever competitive win in France. Ulster qualified for the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup but lost to a Saracens side coached by former Ulster captain Mark McCall. The Province finished top of the RaboDirect PRO12 but lost the final of the competition, again to Leinster. Neil Doak took over as head coach in October 2014.
On 15th September, 2012, Ulster centre, Nevin Spence was killed in a farming accident, along with his brother Graham and father Noel. His tragic death was keenly felt by everyone involved in rugby in Ulster. Captain at the time, Johann Mulller said shortly after his death that Nevin Spence would 'never be forgotten as long as this great club exists.' In August 2013 it was announced that the new education centre at Kingspan Stadium would be named 'The Nevin Spence Centre'.
In November 2012, work began on a £14.7 million redevelopment of Ravenhill Rugby Grounds. The project, funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, (DCAL) saw three new stands built at the ground. The redevelopment saw capacity increase from 11,000 to 18,000 and saw Kingspan Stadium become one of the most modern and state of the art rugby stadiums in Europe.
In June 2014 signed a 10-year agreement with the Kingspan Group, the world's leading provider of sustainable building materials, for the naming rights to what will now be called Kingspan Stadium. The agreement will result in significant investment for the game of rugby at all levels within the Province.