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Best chasing a beautiful Belfast goodbye

Best chasing a beautiful Belfast goodbye
  • Rory Best captains Ulster as they take on Connacht in Guinness PRO14 quarter-final
  • Should they win, their semi-final will be in Glasgow
  • Best will retire after the 2019 Rugby World Cup
  • The other Guinness PRO14 quarter-final sees Munster host Benetton Rugby

Two-time Grand Slam winner Rory Best will look to bid farewell to the Ulster faithful in style on Saturday night when they take on provincial rivals Connacht.

But for Best – who announced he will retire after this autumn’s Rugby World Cup – the real goal is a Guinness PRO14 semi-final spot that is on the line.

The Ireland hooker – who captained his country during the 2019 Guinness Six Nations – has recovered from an ankle injury to start for his province at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday night.

And an interprovincial clash with Connacht as the play-offs get under way is a fitting finale to a glorious one-club career for Best.

LOCAL DERBY

In addition to Best, it will also be a final home game before retirement for centre Darren Cave – who won 11 caps for Ireland.

But progress to the semi-finals is no guarantee for Ulster despite the home support.

Connacht have already come to Belfast and made off with the spoils this season and Joe Schmidt will be an interested observer this weekend.

Kieran Marmion and John Cooney – who made his Guinness Six Nations bow earlier this year – go head-to-head at scrum-half.

And Jack Carty returns at fly-half for the visitors, with Bundee Aki outside him in midfield.

Ulster name two stand-out youngsters in their back three in Michael Lowry and Robert Baloucoune but Jacob Stockdale has not won his fitness race.

“To send Besty off on a high would be something special,” said former Ireland centre and now Ulster coach Jared Payne.

“Hopefully, they can, but Besty knows that rugby can be awesome but it can be pretty evil at the same time. He’ll do what he normally does – front-up every week and put his best foot forward on the pitch.”

HISTORY MAKERS

The second Guinness PRO14 quarter-final sees Munster welcome Benetton Rugby to Thomond Park.

The Italians have already made history in making the knockout stages for the first time but will not be looking to stop there.

They have form in Ireland, claiming a last-gasp draw with Leinster in the RDS earlier this year and are packed with a number of Azzurri stars from the 2019 Championship.

Tommaso Allan at fly-half and Federico Ruzza in the second row in particular stand out but Munster are back at almost full strength as well.

Conor Murray – a late injury withdrawal last weekend – returns at scrum-half while Peter O’Mahony will captain them as they hope to claim a first league title since 2011.

Keith Earls is also back on the wing and Rory Scannell comes back into midfield as Munster look to continue their unbeaten season at Thomond Park.