Well, this was a nice bonus.
Resigned to an empty Saturday, I found out on Friday evening that I won tickets to Ulster v Connacht, so it was off to Ravenhill I headed on Saturday teatime.
Regardless of the result, this would be Ulster’s last home match of the season, a Quarter-Final of the Pro 14, with Glasgow the destination Ulster were aiming for, in more than one way.
I had previously seen Ulster take on Connacht, in December 2016. The weather was a bit different, dry, decent evening light and a gentle breeze – a lot different from the aftermath of Storm Barbara in 2016.
There was a decent sized Connacht support, or maybe it seemed more visible decked in their green replica shirts amongst the white of Ulster.
Despite the fact that it was knock-out Rugby, and that Ulster were three wins away from the title, there was a surprising amount of empty seats in the ground. Not a lot, but there were pockets of empty seats that were clearly visible.
The seats I had were fantastic, in the stand with a clear view, right on the halfway line.
It was Ulster who got the first score on the board with a penalty from John Cooney, before Nick Timoney got over for a try to make it 8-0 to Ulster. It looked like they were going to run away with it. Unfortunately Cooney missed the conversion, meaning Ulster didn’t have a double point lead.
The two sides exchanged penalties to give Ulster a half-time lead of 11-3. Not exactly job done, but you’d take it.
Jack Carty missed a penalty for Connacht in the opening minutes after somebody in the crowd shouted “CHICKEN!!” as he was taking it. I guess you could say he really clucked up that opportunity.
As a side note, the whole being quiet at penalties unwritten rule in Rugby in just the weirdest thing ever. Maybe it’s because I spent so much time watching football.
Could you imagine Joe Gormley or Curtis Allen taking a penalty in front of The Kop, and someone says “Lads, can we just be quiet for a minute? It’s a bit rude and disrespectful to the penalty taker”
Bundee Aki then saw his try converted by Jack Carty to make it 11-10. That miss earlier by Carty was now costly. The game was now in the balance.
The sides once again exchanged penalties as Ulster’s four point lead was once again reduced to one.
As each minute ticked down, it was beginning to feel like the last time I won tickets to an Ulster match, against Edinburgh in February 2018.
That match was in the balance, and Ulster couldn’t get the ball in the final minutes, as Edinburgh waited for their moment to get a clear shot at a drop goal, which they did, to win the game right at the end.
There would be no repeat, as Marcell Coetzee ran through late on for a try to make it 19-13. Connacht now needed to score 7 points in 2 minutes.
A conversion made it 21-13. They now needed 9 points in 2 minutes. They didn’t get it as Ulster got the win, and fans could now make plans for the Semi-Final.
That will be away to Glasgow in two weeks time, with the Final taking place in the city a week later.
The venue for the final, isn’t a Rugby ground, but Celtic Park.
I would say that it isn’t usual for a match at Celtic Park to see the ball in the air for a long time and punch-ups all over the pitch, but that is what usually happens when Celtic play Rangers.
Neil Lennon and Brendan Rodgers recent successes at Celtic mean that they are used to seeing Ulstermen celebrating at Celtic Park.
Hopefully, in three weeks, there will be some more celebrating, but in the oval ball.