Top man Topping grabs Ulster Euro glory
November 3, 2000

Ulster qualified for next season's Heineken Cup at the expense of Leinster with a handsome victory and a bonus point for good measure against Connacht at Ravenhill on Friday night.

Connacht, without international fly-half Eric Elwood who cried off on the morning of the match, started and finished well, but it was Ulster who had too much all-round firepower throughout the rest of the game.

Leinster drew the other match in the final round of the 2000 Guinness Interprovincials, leaving Ulster in second place and joining the champions, Munster, as Ireland's automatic Euro qualifiers.

Ulster had the game virtually wrapped up by the end of the first quarter and booked their European ticket by the 27th minute.

Connacht nudged ahead, albeit at length, when Tim Allnutt, a late replacement for Elwood, made a mess of two fairly easy penalty attempts before Wayne Munn took over to find the mark in the sixth minute.

Then Ulster took off with their pack stringing together some excellent passages of play to lay the platform for four first-half tries.

First it was wing James Topping - grabbing his fourth try to finish leading scorer in the Championship - on the end of a trademark Ryan Constable outside swerve to dot down in the corner. Then lock Mark Blair was at the heels of his pack to charge over.

Ulster were queuing up to score in the second quarter, and skipper David Humphreys looped around to claim an excellent try after some exquisite handling between backs and forwards.

Before Connacht could gather themselves, not helped by losing flanker Ian Dillon with a badly gashed head, Blair was at it again when he took advantage of a gap at a ruck to barge over.

Humphreys converted three of the tries as Ulster shot out to a 26-3 lead.

However, the home side became a little complacent on the run-up to half-time and allowed Connacht to counter from deep and flanker Johnny O'Connor showed good pace and strength to crash over midway out for Munn to convert.

The second half was scrappy in the extreme with neither team able to dominate in any way that tries would accrue.

Ulster in particular appeared happy with their lot with only a Humphreys penalty coming in the third quarter.

Fair play to Connacht, they never lay down and fought hard for possession and deserved their second try when they ran wide on the right to find space for Munn to skip in.

Ulster final shook themselves in the final minutes and grabbed try number five. A drive from a scrum by Russell Nelson saw Derek Topping break free from his own 22. The replacement flanker fed to Blair who in turn fed Andy Ward who charged for the line giving Shane Stephens a helping stiff-arm hand-off along the way.

Connacht, however, had the final word on the whistle when replacement Gavin Schoemann ran in at the posts. It was fair reward for their endeavour, but it was Ulster ending on the happier note, particular Humphreys whose 16 points gave him the Guinness Golden Boot award with 74 overall.

Ulster - G Henderson, J Topping, R Constable, S Stewart, S Coulter, D Humphreys (capt), B Free (N Doak, 67); J Fitzpatrick, R Weir (P Shields,50), C Boyd (S Best,32), G Longwell (P John, 40), M Blair, R Nelson, T McWhirter (D Topping, 62), A Ward

tries: J Topping, Blair 2, Humphreys, Ward; cons: Humphreys 4; pen: Humphreys

Connacht - W Munn, P Duignan, S Stephens, M Murphy (M Smyth, 72), D Yapp, T Allnutt (C Shoemann, 67, J Ferris (B Shelbourne, 66); J Screene (D McFarland, 58), M Uijs (J McVeigh, 70) , M Cahill, R Frost, D Browne, I Dillon (G Schoemann, 10-34 (blood)), J Charlie (capt), J O'Connor

tries: O'Connor, Munn, Schoemann; cons: Munn 2; pen: Munn

referee: Alan Lewis (Leinster)

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