7 Jun, 15:39
Ulster Rugby's Heineken Cup Debut - Tuesday, 28 November, 1995, Cardiff Arms Park
Cardiff 46 Ulster Rugby 6
HT: 29-3 Att: 3,600
Cardiff: M Rayer; S Ford, M Hall, S John, N Walker; A Davies, A Moore; A Lewis, J Humphreys, L Mustoe, J Wakeford, D Jones, E Lewis, O Williams, H Taylor (capt)
Replacement: M Bennett
Scorers: Tries: A Moore 2, A Davies, M Hall, H Taylor, S John; Cons: A Davies 5; Pens: A Davies 2
Ulster: J Bell; J Topping, M Field, B Harbinson (capt), J Cunningham; M McCall, N Doak; R Mackey, A Clarke, G Leslie, J Davidson, G Longwell, S Duncan, D McBride, D Erskine
Replacement: R Wilson
Scorers: Pens: M McCall 2
Referee: Gerard Borreani (France)
"It was a miserable night and a miserable result. There was water all over the pitch and it wasn't the greatest way to kick-off our Heineken Cup career," recalled Doak, who is now backs and skills coach at Ulster.
"In those days we were all playing for our clubs and then coming together to play for Ulster. Everyone had to get a day off work to play in the game and rugby was merely something you did on the side for the fun of it.
"But in 1995 the game went open and there was a bit of novelty value in the thought of getting paid for playing. But what the game in Cardiff proved to us all was that we had to get better as individuals and as a team.
"Cardiff were ahead of us in the professional stakes - we hadn't really got out of the amateur era. Even when Ulster became the first Irish side to win the Heineken Cup in 1999 we only had a dozen or so full-time professional players.
"We are travelling to Clermont this weekend with a management team of 12, whereas in 1995 there was a manager, two coaches, kit man, doctor and physio. Now we leave no stone unturned in preparing and looking after our players.
"The Heineken Cup has grown immensely and now we have southern hemisphere players wanting to come to Europe to experience the passion and intensity of the tournament. That's how far it has come."
Just how far Ulster have developed in recent seasons will be put to the test in Round 6 when they look to celebrate their 100th game in the Heineken Cup by winning for the first time on French soil.
The game at Stade Marcel Michelin will be Ulster's 14th fixture in France since making their debut in Toulouse in 1998 and their only success was a 38-38 draw back in Toulouse in 2000. At Ravenhill, where they beat ASM Clermont Auvergne 16-11 in Round 1, it is a different story with 10 wins from 16 matches.
"This weekend is all about clearing the next hurdle in our progression. It was great to reach the quarter-finals last year and be highly competitive against Northampton Saints, but the game in Clermont is much bigger than last year's quarter-final," admitted Doak.
"We've got to go and get the monkey off our back by winning in France for the first time and we want to put ourselves in with a chance of a home draw in the last eight. Munster and Leinster are already there and it would be great for Irish rugby if we had three provinces in the quarter-finals for the first time.
"We have been building nicely towards this game and the players all know how important it is."
Doak is not the only survivor in the Ulster group from Day 1. The full back in Cardiff in 1995 was the current Elite Player Development and defence coach at Ravenhill. Gary Longwell is another who is still heavily involved with the province, as Ulster's Academy Manager, while former forwards coach Jeremy Davidson and current IRFU Elite Player Development Manager Allen Clarke was also in the starting line-up.
All bar Doak and Davidson went on to feature in the Heineken Cup final triumph at Lansdowne Road four years later. Thirteen years on can the new breed reach another final?
Ulster Rugby's Greatest Day - the 4th Heineken Cup Final - 30 January, 1999, Lansdowne Road
Ulster 21, Colomiers 6
HT: 12-3 Att: 49,000
Ulster: S Mason; S Coulter, J Cunningham (S McDowell 40), J Bell, A Park; D Humphreys (capt), A Matchett; J Fitzpatrick, A Clarke, R Irwin (G Leslie 72), M Blair, G Longwell, S McKinty, A Ward, T McWhirter (D Topping 76)
Scorers: Pens: S Mason 6; DG: D Humphreys
Colomiers: J-L Sadourny (capt); M Biboulet, S Roque, J Sieurac, B Lhande (D Skrela 21); L Labit (M Carre 53), F Galthie; S Delpuech, M Dal Maso, S Graou, G Moro, J Lorenzi, B de Giusti, P Tabacco, S Peysson (M Pueyo 68)
Scorers: Pens: M Carre, L Labit
Referee: Clayton Thomas (Wales)
HEINEKEN CUP '100' CLUB
123 - Toulouse
120 - Munster Rugby
111 - Leinster Rugby
109 - Leicester Tigers
104 - Scarlets
100 - Cardiff Blues
99 - Ulster Rugby