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Closing efforts at both ends worthy of a win

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The outpouring of emotion was palpable in the final moments of the semi-final with Ulster last Friday.

It was one of those games where momentum mattered above everything, with each team enjoying almost exactly 40 minutes of it in their favour – first helping to carry a dynamic Ulster performance in the first half and then swinging in favour of a rejuvenated Tigers after the break.

For all that, and the physical impression Tigers made in the second half, even with the wind in their sails, just two points separated the teams as they entered the final 10 minutes.

When Guy Porter slid into the right-hand corner for the third try, the grin was as wide as the sudden gap on the scoreboard. And not just from the scorer.

Across the field, there was a realisation that was THE moment. And that was even before the immaculate orchestrator George Ford added the conversion kick from the touchline.

Although there had been some nervous moments and Ulster had cut that gap, it was a massive moment.

Equally massive emotionally, and psychologically for so many players who have experienced more rough than smooth in recent seasons, was the huge defensive set which followed.

Ulster were nine points down with the 80-minute mark fast approaching. The game was as good as over, but they were still looking to finish with something from the night and kept ball in hand, kept pushing, kept probing across the Tigers half of the field for the closing minutes.

But the defensive effort which greeted them was phenomenal. The victory on the back of it was thoroughly deserved against a strong visiting team with high hopes in this competition and a strong record through the rest of the season.

Emotions had been running high all night, of course, beginning with the tributes to Bleddyn Jones. Many of us could still hear his voice in those closing stages.

Just imagine the depth of the pre-match silence and then the level of the noise in that second-half spell if the fans – from both sides – had been in the stadium.