IT’S FRIDAY NIGHT, rugby night in Belfast.
Ulster are in Ravenhill for the last time this season with the sole aim of seeing off another Welsh challenge and taking their place in the RaboDirect Pro12 final after spending almost the entire season on top of the league.
Ulster 28 – 17 Scarlets
19.32 – A very, very good evening folks and welcome along to the first of this weekend’s Pro12 semi-finals.
Fourth seed Scarlets are in Belfast hoping for a better result than their other two meetings with Ulster this season.
Here are the teams, lets have your predictions.
Ulster XV: J Payne, A Trimble, D Cave, S Olding, T Bowe, P Jackson, R Pienaar: T Court, R Best, D Fitzpatrick, J Muller (C), D Tuohy, R Diack, C Henry, N Williams;
Replacements: R Herring, C Black, R Lutton, I Henderson, M McComish, P Marshall, M Allen, P Nelson.
Scarlets XV: L Williams,g North, J Davies, S Williams, A Fenby, R Priestland, A Davies: P John, K Owens, S Lee, G Earle, J Synman, A Shingler, J Turnbull, R McCusker (C).
Replacements: E Phillips, Rhodri Jones, Jacobie Adriannse, Jake Ball, Sione Timani, Gareth Davies, Owen Williams, Gareth Owen.
19.38 – Whoa. Scratch the below line-ups. Rhys Priestland has had to withdraw. Owen Williams will wear the number 10 in his stead.
19.45 – Scarlets are on the field, now here comes Johann Muller and Ulster to the sweet sound of SUFTUM.
19.48 – KICK OFF: Jackson’s kick goes 12 metres and is won back by Declan Fitzpatrick and Stuart Olding is able to get the backs moving.
Rory Best makes a good burst after two phases, but the follow up is knocked on and Scarlets have the scrum.
19.53 – Another profitable restart. Snynam is called for holding on by Rollaind and Pienaar ties the game up from 30 metres.
PENALTY: Ulster 3 – 3 Scarlets
19.51 – Scarlets initially struggle to make any yards, but in broken play they persist and Paddy Jackson is left to chop down Andy Fenby after he makes 30 metres up the left wing.
The red shirts pour on and Dan Tuohy is penalised for slowing the ruck down.
PENALTY: Ulster 0 – 3 Scarlets ( Williams ‘ 5)
19.55 – Uncharacteristic error from Andy Trimble there, knocking on Williams’ restart. The Red scrum is disrupted by a fierce effort from Fitzpatrick. As their backs scramble, Earle is pinged for holding on as the Ulster back-row do their thing at the breakdown.
Pienaar’s kick brings the play down to the 10-metre line.
20.00 – Williams spins out of a ruck and looks to make a one-handed offload. He thinks again and Muller flops in from the side.
19.56 – There’s a marker. Pienaar’s upand under is taken by North, but he is swarmed and bundled into touch.
Game, well and truly, on.
19.59 – We’re going at a frantic pace at the minute, even a quick spell of kick-tennis has a bit of breathlessness about it.
Williams forced a penalty and Pienaar gives the line-out a base on the Scarlets 22.
20.03 – Rust? Maybe a touch of nerves. Either way, Ulster are just a fraction short of their usual selves with ball-in-hand. Unable to string enough phases together to build a head of steam.
Muller is whistled again, this time for not rolling away after tackling Turnbull. And this time, it’s within kicking range…
20.05 – Oooh! Off the post from Williams.
The replacement connected well enough, but the pill just started to veer left in the final 15 minutes of its journey and Jackson clears.
20.08 – Fight Fight Fight Fight!
20.07 – A near miss at the other end after a brilliant break in midfield from Jared Payne.
The Kiwi grubbered in behind North and Tommy Bowe was only too happy to skip around him. There wasn’t enough room, however, and the ball skids into touch with Bowe claiming North pushed him in the back.
20.09 – Sin bin: Andrew Trimble and Liam Williams.
20.12 – Rollaind makes it clear that Williams started that row, but both men are binned. Ulster still in attacking territory.
20.21 – Liam Williams’ first touch back is a stumble under a high ball. And who should slam into him with a tackle than his old mate Trimble.
20.15 – Best takes a short line-out and look to rumble over from five-metres. North is penalised for dragging it down.
Another line-out, this one is to Mullers and the white shirts are set again.
Pienaar pulls the strings, first to best on the charge, then to Bowe on the left wing and he shows his finishing ability with a quick step and dive over the line.
The Springbok makes his contribution even better with a stunning conversion from the touchline.
TRY: Ulster 10 – 3 Scarlets (Bowe ’25 )
20.17 – That feisty opening quarter from the Scarlets was just that, a quarter. The hosts well on top now even with Rory Best in the blood bin.
20.20 – A big miss from Pienaar there with a penalty from the right wing.
The sin-bins have expired and we’re back to 15 v 15.
20.23 – TRY: Ulster 15 – 3 Scarlets (Diack ‘ 34)
Boldly, Pienaar passes up a kick at goal in favour of drilling the ball at the corner flag. From there, Rob Herring’s dart is 10 accurate and the maul steam-rolls its way through the red defence.
Pienaar’s kick veers right again, but this time it hits the post and bounces back.
20.27 – In the build up to that try Nick Williams was tackled and, comically, stood up straight and had a look round before casually handing the ball to a team-mate.
20.31 – Awards season hasn’t taken its toll on Nick Williams. The big man is having a stormer. First he rolls off a solid scrum, allowing Pienaar keep play in the Scarlets 22.
Once there, the Kiwi, Henry and Best execute a choke tackle and the resulting scrum brings a penalty.
Very, very efficient work from the Ulstermen tonight.
20.32 – PENALTY: Ulster 18 – 3 Scarlets (Pienaar ’40)
HALF-TIME: Ulster 18- 3 Scarlets
Phew! Did anyone else think that 40 minutes flew by?
20.46 – No sooner is the second half under way than Ulster are pouring forward again with Rory Best just caught 15 metres from the line.
Anscombe sent them out in no mood to be reeled in.
20.51 – TRY: Ulster 25 – 3 Scarlets (Court ’42)
The initial barrage found no gaps, but after a white scrum Cave took a sensational line against the grain and came agonisingly close to grounding.
Court was following up and he did manage to dive over the defenders and.
The TMO took his sweet time, but eventually Rollaind is allowed award the score a second time.
20.48 – TMO: But Tom Court looks like a certain try-scorer.
21.00 – Bit of a lull in play here as Ken Owens receives treatment.
21.04 – Owens is stretchered off. Hopefully that’s precautionary.Emyr Phillips is on in his place and he is tasked with a defensive five-metre line-out.
As the rain pours in Belfast, Ulster look to attack through Bowe after he receives the clearing kick. Scarlets are looking for the exit here.
21.11 – We won’t lie to you: With that rain we mentioned, two injury stoppages and little or no sign of a Scarlets comeback this game has settled into a very sedate pattern.
30 minutes remain, here’s hoping the home side can round off a terrific season at Ravenhill in style.
21.22 – TRY: Ulster 25 -10 Scarlets (Davies ‘ 60)
Game on again as Gareth Davies scythes his way through the white defence and under the posts.
21.15 – Oh Andy!
Trimble looks to inject some life into the game, chipping and chasing into the Scarlets half.
Unfortunately, the move comes to an embarrassing end as the wing stubs his toe in the turf rather than the ball. North America for him, so.
21.16 – Deccie Fitz is called ashore. He’s had a huge game in John Afoa’s absence. Ricky Lutton is in at tight-head.
21.24 – PENALTY: Ulster 28 – 10 Scarlets (Pienaar ‘ 62)
As you were. The hosts calm things down with some solid pick and drives forcing a straight-forward penalty for Pienaar.
21.43 – Time for a scrum to the hosts in the attacking third for Ulster, but the clock is near enough red for Muller and his pack to wind it down and accept the victory.
It feels like an anti-climax after that second half, but Ulster are in the RaboDirect Pro12 final.
FULL TIME: Ulster 28 – 17 Scarlets
Over to you, Leinster and Glasgow.
21.26 – Remember that sin-binning in the first half? Seems like an age ago, I know.
Well, here’s what went down.
21.30 – The Ulster bench is emptied now with McComish coming on for Nick Williams who receiving a standing ovation from the faithful in the old stand in Ravenhill.
He’s nailed on to win man-of-the match. Robbie Diack and Rory Best have not put a foot wrong either, though, and in the back-line Darren Cave has looked a threat ever since the Scarlets went on the back foot.
21.33 – A province holds its breath… sort of.
Yeah, he said semi-final, but you know what he means. Exciting times.
21.35 – Ulster caught napping in defence again and Jared Payne is forced to slow the ball down. Penalty to Llanelli in front of the posts, but they need much more than three and they need it fast.
21.39 – Scarlets attempt a cheeky dink to the corner, North looks favourite, but Iain Henderson has the angle and is able to shepherd the ball out of play.
21.41 – Two minutes to go and Scarlets have another breakthrough.
TRY: Ulster 28 – 17 Scarlets ( Timani ’79)
21.52 – That’s it from me for the night folks. Apologies for that second half, Ulster clearly with an eye on the final which will now definitely take place in the RDS.
All the good work was clinically done in the third quarter. Rory Best, to our pleasant surprise accepting the man of the match award with his son Ben, bemoaned a lack of ruthlessness. However, knock-out rugby doesn’t require pretty patterns, only winning scoreline.
Here’s hoping for an all-Irish Pro12 final in two week’s time.