Within minutes of the final whistle of his side’s semi-final victory over Scarlets, Ulster coach Mark Anscombe’s thoughts were on completing the job.
If they are to do that on May 25, he knows Ulster must put in a full shift. For 50 minutes on Friday night his side out-classed their Welsh opponents but in the final half-hour they eased off, allowing the guests to score two converted tries.
“That’s a reminder to us that you can’t afford to relax. You can’t afford to take your foot off the throat; you’ve got to play for the full 80 minutes and we know we’ll have to do that in two weeks time,” the Kiwi said. Man of the match, hooker Rory Best highlighted the pack’s role in securing a place in the final.
Nursing a badly swollen left eye and surrounding cuts, Best said: “Ultimately we knew that if we won the game it was going to be down to the hard work of the forwards and if we lost it that would be because we didn’t perform the way we wanted to.
“We put a bit of pressure on ourselves this week to get the set-piece right, to be good at the ruck and to be good at slowing their ruck down. I think for 50 minutes we were very good at that and very physical. We dominated them.”
Ulster were up to a full head of steam when an injury to Best’s opposite number, Ken Owens, forced a lengthy break. When play resumed, Ulster never quite managed to get back to where they had been.
“On the pitch when that long break was happening we talked about not taking the foot off the gas, we talked about being ruthless and taking them to town. But for some reason we just slipped off a wee bit which is disappointing.
“But ultimately we’re in the
final which is where we wanted to be.”
It turned out to be quite a night for Andrew Trimble. Yellow-carded with Scarlets’ full-back Liam Williams at the end of the first quarter, the big wing went on to collect two prizes at the post-match Heineken Ulster Rugby Awards — Player of the Year and Supporters’ Club Player of the Year.
Explaining what had happened on the pitch, Trimble told compere Stephen Watson: “I started it and I got a hiding!”
Robbie Diack won the Belfast Telegraph-sponsored Most Improved Player of the Season.
Iain Henderson was the BT Sports Young Ulster Player of the Year, with Stuart Olding romping away with the Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy version.
History was created with Personality of the Year Award going posthumously to Nevin Spence.
The award citation read: “Nevin’s presence has been with the Ulster Rugby team throughout this season. Although he is no longer here in person, his spirit continues to inspire and motivate each and every member of the squad.”
Ulster prop Paddy McAllister collected the award on his close friend’s behalf.