Best blows Quins off course in a storm

Ulster 21 Harlequins 10
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The Independent Online

Harlequins fell to their first Heineken Cup defeat of the season in terrible conditions in Belfast. Driving wind and rain forced the evacuation of a temporary stand and some players had to be wrapped in blankets once the game had ended.

Ulster, who were unable to make the quarter-finals, built up an early lead and then defended it efficiently. The visitors did narrow a 16-0 half-time deficit to 16-10, thanks to a penalty try won by their superior pack, but heroic defending from Matt Williams' side saw them end the game with a breakaway, kick and chase try from their captain and hooker, Rory Best.

Facing the gale and horizontal rain, Quins made the worst possible start by conceding a try in the first minute, after they had knocked on from a steepling kick-off. From the scrum Ulster moved the ball right and Paddy Wallace fed Darren Cave, who ran through for an easy score. Ian Humphreys converted.

The Ulster outside-half kicked a penalty after nine minutes before his opposite number, Nick Evans, struggling to contend with the howling wind, pushed a fairly straightforward effort wide.

After the Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris (who was later named man of the match) had cut down the Quins prop Mike Ross with a huge tackle, Humphreys kicked his secondpenalty, from just short of halfway, to give Ulster a 13-0 lead. His third penalty arrived just before the break, shortly after the Quins scrum-half, Danny Care, had been sent to the sin-bin for kicking the ball away.

After the break, and with the wind, Evans got Quins off the mark and they pinned Ulster back. After several near misses, Ulster's scrum-half, Isaac Boss, dived into a scrum and conceded a penalty try. Evans converted.

It looked like Quins would push on to win, but Ulster's pressure defence and the conditions made their hopes come unstuck. The replacement fly-half Chris Malone's first act was to go for goal, in the 72nd minute. He pushed the kick wide and that was as good as it got. With the last eight minutes seeing uncontested scrums, due to Ulster's Tom Court having to leave the field, the hosts upped their game.

A Paul Steinmetz drop-out relieved the Quins pressure and then, with four minutes remaining, David Pollock charged down a Malone kick and poked the ball through, the substitute Nigel Brady leading the charge. Brady and the Quins winger Tom Williams overran the rolling ball in goal and Best dived on the ball to touch down and give Ulster their second win in Pool Four. Their final game is at Stade Français, who now have hopes of catching Quins.

Ulster: C Schifcofske; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace (B Cunningham, 41), S Danielli; I Humphreys (P Steinmetz, 58), I Boss; T Court (N Brady, 73), R Best (capt), J Fitzpatrick (B Young, 61), E O'Donoghue, R Caldwell, S Ferris, C Henry (M McCullough, 41), K Dawson.

Harlequins: M Brown; T Williams, G Tiesi (E Taione, 52), J Turner-Hall, C Amesbury; N Evans (C Malone, 72), D Care; C Jones, C Brooker, M Ross, J Percival, J Percival, G Robson, C Robshaw, N Easter, W Skinner (capt).

Referee: R Poite (France).