Ulster heroes in fitting send-off
Ulster 28 Barbarians 43
With the wet weather once again following the famous Barbarians to Belfast, it was still an entertaining night at Kingspan Stadium as the visitors overcame Ulster by a score of 43-28 in a game that featured 11 tries.
With many of Ulster's players unavailable through injury or Ireland and Lions selections, there was certainly a gulf in experience between the two sides as the Baa-Baas brought a much more star-studded panel to Belfast than the one that overcame Fiji here in November.
But Les Kiss's men managed to hang in with their illustrious visitors for the first hour, only for a late surge to see the gap widen considerably on a night when Ulster said goodbye to both Ruan Pienaar and Roger Wilson.
Under the circumstances, Ulster had taken what constituted a surprise 14-0 lead early on.
The Baa-Baas were caught cold at the set-piece when Ulster got the ball out quickly and Pienaar and Brett Herron combined to set Stuart McCloskey into space.
The impressive midfielder, one who perhaps would have hoped to be preparing for Ireland's upcoming tour rather than playing at Kingspan last night, galloped into the open field and around Saracens man Alex Goode to score.
Getting into the spirit of things, Roger Wilson stepped up to add the extras.
Much to the delight of the dampened crowd, many of whom had come out to see their two departing heroes off, the back-rower looked like he'd had the tee all his life as he stroked the ball over.
For Ulster's next score, McCloskey turned provider as he again broke through the line, this time chipping ahead.
Mark Keane, the Queen's winger called into a starting spot after Andrew Trimble was lost this week to injury, gathered the kick well and dotted down for what is sure to be a memorable score.
With Wilson having had his moment, kicking duties were handed back to Pienaar and the Springbok made no mistake with his own effort.
From there, the Baa-Baas were shook from their slumber but it was from an unexpected source that they worked their way back into the game.
Having scored so many great tries over the years, there was nothing pretty about the rolling maul that was finished off by former All Black hooker Corey Flynn and it was only three minutes before Vern Cotter's side forced their way over again, with Waisea Nayacalevu crossing the whitewash.
It was again back to the maul for both sides as a try for Ulster's Callum Patterson, cousin of Northern Ireland football captain Steven Davis, was sandwiched between a pair of scores by prop Chris King.
It was hardly the running rugby expected but a high-scoring half ended 22-21 in favour of the visitors.
With both Pienaar and Wilson subbed off to warm applause, the game continued its back and forth pattern, swinging in Ulster's favour when quick thinking from Paul Marshall saw the scrum-half tap and go in the Baa-Baas '22' to give Alan O'Connor a canter across the line, but the visitors again took advantage of their superior set-piece to regain the upper hand.
With a front-row of Vincent Pelo, Richard Hibbard and Census Johnston, they made quick work of driving the Ulster scrum backwards five metres out, with Ben Whitehouse opting for a penalty try when the hosts halted the march for the line illegally.
An hour in and there was finally a bit of the expected traditional flair when the Baa-Baas broke out after a trick play that saw Ulster's view blocked by a black and white wall and an Ian Madigan flick set Stade Francais man Nayacalevu over the line for a second time.
When Ulster tried to turn on the style themselves, Paul Marshall had a moment to forget as he dropped the ball with the line at his mercy.
Craig Gilroy gave Ulster fans one more sight to enjoy as he produced a sublime step to send Goode tumbling to the ground but the move came to nothing and the crowd were treated to the sight of French legend Theirry Dusautoir chipping over a conversion in the final act of a great career after Joe Tekori scored the game's last try with a big burst through the middle.
Ulster: P Nelson; M Keane, C Patterson, S McCloksey, C Gilroy; B Herron, R Pienaar (co-capt); A Warwick, R Herring, R Ah You; P Browne, A O'Connor; M Rea, C Ross, R Wilson (co-capt)
REPLACEMENTS: Paul Marshall (for Pienaar, 35), Kyle McCall (for Warwick, 40), R Lutton (for Ah You, 40), J Andrew (for Herring, 53), S Mullholland (for Wilson, 53), R Kane (for R Lutton, 58), C Henry (for O'Connor, 58), C Smith (for Keane, 66)
Barbarians: A Goode; D Smith, W Nayacalevu, R Freuan, H Agulla; I Madigan, R Kockott; C King, C Flynn, M Ross; P Wilemse, P Albacete; J Tekori, T Dusautoir, F Isa.
REPLACEMENTS: C Johnston (for King, 43), C Masoe (for Albacete, 45), K Fotuali'i (for Kockott, 49), R Hibbard (for Flynn, 51) V Pelo (for Ross, 51), JM Buttin (for Agulla, 54), J Thrush (for Tekori, 58), B James (for Madigan, 66)
Referee: Ben Whitehouse
Man of the match: Roger Wilson