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'Rory runs out, Darren runs out, and the crowd are going nuts'

The two stalwarts played at the Kingspan Stadium for the last time as they secured a Pro14 semi-final.

Murray Kinsella reports from Kingspan Stadium

IN THE END, the Ulster crowd were able to bid farewell to Rory Best and Darren Cave in happy circumstances.

Though this wasn’t the very final goodbye – with a Pro14 semi-final to come in two weekends’ time – it was the last time both players lined out at the Kingspan Stadium and they played a part in Ulster ending Connacht’s season with a 21-13 win.

Darren Cave with Rory Best after the game Cave and Best got a great reception. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The victory was hard-earned by Dan McFarland’s side, with two superb breakdown turnovers among the highlights of 36-year-old Best’s 69-minute performance, while Cave came off the bench in the second half to lend his energy to the cause.

It was always likely to be an emotional occasion as these Ulster stalwarts took to the pitch at the Belfast venue one last time, with captain Best’s three children joining him in leading the team out from the tunnel.

After helping Ulster to victory in this quarter-final, the two soon-to-retire players then joined their team-mates on a lap of the pitch to thank the home supporters, when they were given a rapturous reception.

“It was brilliant, wasn’t it?” said head coach McFarland post-match.

“Even in the warm-up, it’s such a great feeling when you’re out for the warm-up and the crowd are electric already. Rory runs out on the pitch, Darren runs out onto the pitch, and the crowd are going nuts.

“That’s special for them and they will be special memories. Rory spoke in the changing room afterwards and thanked everyone in the room for the support and looked forward to Glasgow. It was emotional.

“I know it must have been special for him and for Darren.”

All in all, this was a pleasing day for the province as they secured their first Pro14 semi-final since 2016, a trip to Glasgow on Friday 17 May their reward for beating Connacht.

Getting into the last four is a big step in McFarland’s first season in charge but the northern province are not planning on their season ending at Scotstoun.

Marcell Coetzee scores a try as teammates celebrates Ulster were deserved winners in Belfast. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It’s massive, isn’t it?” said McFarland. “But we’re in it to win it. The goal at the start of the season will always be for us to consistently be in play-off games.

“The more play-off games you play, the better you get at them and the more chance you have of winning them because they are an individual beast.

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“Winning one now will give us experience but going to Glasgow, we’re under no illusions as to the task there, having been there about a month ago and been sent packing.”

That 30-7 defeat to the Warriors last month underlined the quality of Dave Rennie’s side and Ulster face a difficult task against this in-form Glasgow team.

McFarland – who says Jacob Stockdale could “potentially” be fit to play the semi-final – is clear about where Ulster need to improve on from their last visit.

“Not turn the ball over. A little bit like today, we gave the ball away in circumstances where we shouldn’t have. It just heaps pressure on you and when you’re playing in play-off games, you’re playing against teams who can expose you. We had to go back to our defence on countless occasions today when we really didn’t want to do that.

“Attacking-wise today, Dwayne [Peel, attack coach] and the players’ game plan was excellent. We found purchase in the first 15 minutes but then weren’t able to do that because our lineout was profligate through various points in the game.

“With Glasgow, the last time we went there I think we turned the ball over eight times in their 22 and were fully punished for that. They will punish you because they have such good players.”

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Murray Kinsella

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