|Pro14 semi-final: Glasgow Warriors v Ulster|
|Venue: Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow Date: Friday, 17 May Kick-off: 19:35 BST|
A thunderous Friday night beckons at Scotstoun as Glasgow Warriors meet a rejuvenated old foe with a place in the Pro14 final at stake.
Beat Ulster, and Dave Rennie’s men book their place in the Celtic Park showpiece on 25 May. Warriors’ motivation to reach a final in their home city is clear.
In the province, they face a side guided by a familiar face, and motoring this season after a troublesome recent past.
This is the story of a huge semi-final showdown in Glasgow’s West End.
If one man is well-placed to identify the weaknesses in the Glasgow team it is Ulster head coach Dan McFarland.
The Englishman spent two years as assistant to then-Glasgow boss Gregor Townsend before joining the Scotland set-up as forwards coach when Townsend replaced Vern Cotter at the helm of the national side in 2017.
“I get on really well with the coaches over there,” McFarland said of the upcoming showdown with his old club.
“The last time we played there we were well beaten, so it’ll be tough, there’ll be a bit of an edge to it, but I love that – that’s just added spice.”
Shades of 2015
Glasgow’s only title-winning season came in 2015. Their opponents in that year’s semi-final at Scotstoun? Ulster.
That encounter was one of those monumental evenings that helped forge the stadium’s reputation as a fortress for the Warriors.
The visitors looked destined to seal a place in the final, leading 14-9 with four minutes left, before a thrilling denouement.
After several phases banging at the Ulster door, a young Finn Russell threw a typically stunning long pass to take out the cover defence and send DTH van der Merwe over in the corner. The fly-half then kept his composure to slot the touchline conversion, send Scotstoun into raptures and his men on their way to a glorious final victory over Munster in Belfast.
Hogg’s Scotstoun farewell
Friday’s match will be a final home appearance for a man many consider to be the greatest player ever to don the Glasgow Warriors jersey – Stuart Hogg.
The full-back will join English Premiership side Exeter Chiefs in the summer after a glorious nine-year spell with Glasgow, during which time he has earned 67 caps for Scotland, two Six Nations player of the year awards, call-ups for two British and Irish Lions tours, and that Pro12 title in 2015.
Defeat on Friday would bring an abrupt halt to Hogg’s Glasgow career, but he is eager to sign off in style with another title.
“That’s something we have talked about all season, getting silverware and a home final,” Hogg said. “We have given ourselves an opportunity and here’s hoping we can take another step closer.”
Best for last?
As Glasgow prepare to bid farewell to one of their superstar players, a legend of Ulster Rugby is hoping a victory on Friday can extend his career with the Irish side by one more match.
Ireland captain Rory Best is in the final throes of a phenomenal career. Capped 117 times by Ireland, Best has won two Grand Slams in the green shirt and been selected for two Lions tours.
He will retire from Rugby after this year’s World Cup in Japan but his time with Ulster will finish at the season’s end. Best’s memories of Scotstoun are not entirely pleasant, having been part of the side that lost the 2015 semi-final. Ulster’s last visit to Glasgow ended in a 30-7 thrashing last month.
“The last time we were there we got a bit of a battering,” Best said. “But with this squad we give it our best shot and if we do that and get a little bit of luck then who knows?”