Rory Best craving a final hurrah at Kingspan
Ulster skipper Rory Best wants to hear the Ravenhill roar of old when he plays his final game in Belfast this evening.
The retiring talisman will hang up his boots after the World Cup in Japan later this year and, with tonight's quarter-final clash with Connacht Ulster's last home game of the season, the massive inter-pro duel (5.35pm kick-off) will act as his Kingspan Stadium farewell.
Best, who made his provincial debut in 2004, says there could be no better way to bring down the curtain on his home club career.
"When you set out on this journey, you don't know how long the road is going to be but you want to keep control of how you finish," said the 36-year-old.
"To do so against Connacht, against really tough opposition in a knockout game, would be great.
"It'd be lovely for me to be able to say goodbye with a big performance here.
"For all the years I've played here, the crowd is often the deciding factor in these tight games. No doubt, a play-off, a quarter-final, there's going to be tough moments.
"That's when the famous Ravenhill roar comes into its own.
"For me to experience that buzz one last time would be incredibly special."
Best isn't the only long-serving stalwart to be stepping away from Ulster with Darren Cave also retiring at season's end. The centre is on the bench tonight and should he come on would move within one of Andrew Trimble's all-time Ulster appearance record.
Sean Reidy is alongside him among the replacements having come through the return to play protocols but there’s no doubt that Best’s recovery from the ankle problem sustained in the Champions Cup quarter-final defeat to Leinster back in March is the headline news.
“When the scans came back and it wasn’t as bad as we first feared, this was always a target,” he said. “It wasn’t known then if we’d have a home quarter-final but, once we performed the way we did in Edinburgh (to book a play-off place), it was always a big goal and I’ve worked hard for one last game at Kingspan.
“It’s hard to believe after playing so many times here that you still want one more. I’m one of the few people now to have played in the old Ravenhill and now Kingspan. There’s so many memories for me, the debut, 100 caps, 200 caps.
“It’s a play-off game and sometimes with that you don’t get the crowd that you want, but for me and Darren it would be lovely to get in as many people as we can, as much for us to say thanks for all the support that they’ve given us over the years.”
Neither man will want to see his Ulster career end this evening, though, with the winners going on to travel to Glasgow for a semi-final on May 17.
Ulster are favourites but have already lost both home and away to Andy Friend’s side this season.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” added Best.“They’ll have confidence from being the only team to have come to Kingspan and won this season. They’ll have no fear but we know how good they are, how good they’ve been so we know how good we need to be to make sure we perform.”