Sunday 25 August 2019

Ulster ready to show their Best in battle with Warriors

Ulster 21 Connacht 13

The Best of times: Rory Best of Ulster with his son Richie. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
The Best of times: Rory Best of Ulster with his son Richie. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

On the face of it, having three Irish sides in the last four of the PRO14 is great for business, but it's hard to imagine all of Wales, Scotland and Italy weren't roaring themselves hoarse when Benetton were putting all sorts of heat on Munster in Thomond Park.

They also probably would have wanted Connacht to steal the game in Kingspan on an Ulster side who had never been behind.

Marcell Coetzee of Ulster dives to score his side’s second try. Photo by John Dickson/Sportsfile
Marcell Coetzee of Ulster dives to score his side’s second try. Photo by John Dickson/Sportsfile

So those in search of some variety came away from the weekend empty-handed - and you can feel their pain. For a once-off this sort of endgame is fine, but it's not the kind of domination a six nations competition needs.

It was hardly worth making that point to the Ulster mob as they cheered Rory Best off Ravenhill for the last time. A year ago anyone in that part of the world - a dark place back then - would have bitten your hand off if it was holding out the prospect of a trip to Glasgow in the Pro14 with Champions Cup rugby sorted. All good then.

"When the game is knockout, your last game at the Kingspan, there is a lot of mixed emotions and I think when I woke up this morning you just wanted to get to 5:35pm and just get the thing started and get underway," Best said.

"It felt like a long enough day. In terms of a gutsy performance and a win it's something to be really proud of. It's funny the things that get to you, driving in thinking... I've said a few times when I leave home you leave in great weather, you get between Dromore and Hillsborough and the rain starts and that's sort of been my Ulster career at home.

Players form a guard of honour for Best and Darren Cave after their final home game. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Players form a guard of honour for Best and Darren Cave after their final home game. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

"Ironically enough I got to Hillsborough and right enough it felt like it was going to start raining. I was going, 'you're kidding me' and those are the little bits you will miss.

"You'll remember bits of the game and you don't remember that much of the games, those sort of memories and feelings and pulling in here, walking through, coming out for the warm-up. Thankfully the terraces were full for the warm-up. All those little special moments is what it is all about."

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

And winning. Ulster had the edge here throughout, starting with a cracking try for Nick Timoney, and defending really well when it mattered. There were only two minutes left on the clock when Man of the Match Marcell Coetzee made the game safe, but they deserved their spot in the semis against Glasgow.

As for Connacht, they have also moved steadily away from the car crash that was last season under Kieran Keane. Not as far as they wanted to, but in the right direction nonetheless.

"We just said downstairs it's not where we wanted to be in terms of getting knocked out of a PRO14 quarter-final," Andy Friend said.

"We definitely wanted to be in a semi-final and ideally be in a final, holding up silverware. We didn't get there, but on reflection we put some hoodoos to bed this year - the win up here in October, being in the Champions Cup next season which is a plus for us. It's only the second time in the club's history we've got to a quarter-final and into those play-off stages.

"It is hard to reflect and try and put a positive spin on things, but they're the facts of it. There's a lot of boys hurting down there (in the changing room), but I know that hurt will be turned around into positive energy and we'll be better next year."

They'll need to add to the squad, but already they're in reasonable shape, and Friend has done a good job.

He'll regret that, having seen his side make history by winning earlier in the season in Belfast, they were sluggish about getting on the dance floor.

"I think probably the first 15 minutes didn't help us - we were a bit slow out of the blocks. I think we rallied well in the second-half - it was a genuine arm wrestle which we thought it was going to be. I think they scrambled very well.

"We cut them open a couple of times and were guilty probably of not finishing. But that was probably down to their dogged defence. Yeah, in the end there was always going to be a team that was disappointed and unfortunately it was us."

Ulster - M Lowry; R Baloucoune, L Marshall (D Cave 51-63), S McCloskey, R Lyttle; B Burns, J Cooney (D Shanahan 22-34; 69); E O'Sullivan, R Best (capt)(R Herring 69), R Kane (T O'Toole 69), I Henderson, K Treadwell (A O'Connor 73), N Timoney (S Reidy 79), M Coetzee, J Murphy

Connacht - T O'Halloran; S Fitzgerald, T Farrell, B Aki (T Daly 63), M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion (C Blade 52); D Buckley (P McCabe 71), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 57), F Bealham (C Carey 52), U Dillane, G Thornbury (E Masterson 34), E McKeon, J Butler (capt), C Fainga'a (P Boyle 65)

Ref - A Brace (IRFU)

Indo Sport

The Left Wing: The 'hell' of World Cup training camp, Ireland's half-back dilemma and All Blacks uncertainty

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport