Ulster stands as one for Rory Best, but his journey is not yet complete 5 months ago

Ulster stands as one for Rory Best, but his journey is not yet complete

ULSTER 21-13 CONNACHT

In Belfast, they stood up for the Ulstermen. What a turnaround this has been, in just 12 months.

This time last year, Ulster scraped into the Champions Cup with a late, winning run after looking dead in the water mid-way through the season. This time around, they have reached the semis of the Guinness PRO14 and are not finished yet.

Ulster started brightly and made incisions - through jinking runs or brute force - through Stuart McCloskey, Mike Lowry and Marcell Coetzee.

John Cooney put the home side 3-0 up before a stunning Coetzee offload put blindside flanker Nick Timoney away. He had men in support but jinked inside the covering defender and scored a gem of a try.

Jack Carty was not having the easiest times of it, in Belfast, but his well-timed, looping pass put Matt Healy away and would eventually lead to a penalty he dinked over to make it 8-3.

A wayward throw from Rory Best, over the back of an Ulster lineout, spurned a good attacking position but Cooney added to the lead just before half-time. Home fans were calling on Bundee Aki to see a card of any colour description but he was merely penalised for a high tackle on Billy Burns.ย HALF-TIME: Ulster 11-3 Connacht.

(Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

The scored remained the same for the first 15 minutes of the second half, with a John Cooney break up the left and a missed Carty penalty the closest either side came to ticking the scoreboard over.

Then, out of seemingly nowhere, Colby Fainga'a picked off an Ulster pass and shrugged a tackle to break clear. Baloucoune chased back but could not prevent the openside's offload and Bundee Aki was away for a try under the posts. Carty converted and it was a one-point game.

The Ulster response was immediate, and ferocious. McCloskey came close to a score. Five minutes of unrelenting pressure told when Connacht conceded a penalty and Cooney stretched his side's lead.

With replacements flooding onto the field, it was Connacht that struck back next. Working hard for their own scores, they erred at the breakdown within seconds of an attacking Connacht foray and Jack Carty made it 14-13 (to Ulster) with 10 minutes to play.

Dan McFarland called Rory Best ashore soon after and he had to watch his teammates try to extend his playing career from the sidelines.

Darren Cave, playing his final game in Belfast like Best, replaced Luke Marshall as a blood sub in the first half and was on the pitch to help his side finish off the Westerners.

Ulster then pressed the foot on the accelerator and tried to kill off the tie. They camped out in the Connacht 22 and were eventually rewarded when the impressive Coetzee powered over.

Burns nailed a sideline conversion and that was it - the Ulstermen were out of reach.

OR MAN OF THE MATCH:ย Marcel Coetzee (Ulster)