10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
BELFAST HARLEQUINS 22 BALLYMENA 17, Ravenhill
Scorers: Belfast Harlequins: Try: Darren Cave; Con: Willem Slabbert; Pens: Willen Slabbert 4; Drop: Willem Slabbert
Ballymena: Tries: Brian Mitchell, Peter Budina; Cons: Craig Woods 2; Pen: Craig Woods
With his three-year tenure as the club's player-coach coming to an end, Andy Ward played his last match for Belfast Harlequins and fittingly it was a win at his old stomping ground of Ravenhill.
The former Ulster and Ireland flanker is stepping down to concentrate on his business commitments, which include a gym in Ballynahinch, and to spend more time with his family.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: "I really enjoyed my time at Harlequins, the boys have been a great bunch to work with.
"This year we beat ourselves as opposed to other teams beating us in the (AIB League Division Two) promotion race and that was the frustrating thing more than anything.
"We missed promotion by just one point and other than that it would have been the perfect season."
On the subject of his coaching career, Ward added: "Ultimately I would like to coach at a higher level, so I don't really want to be out of it for too long. You never know what's around the corner."
This was 'Quins' second win in their fourth straight appearance in the Ulster Senior Cup decider - they were last winners in 2006 and, on Friday, they were gaining revenge for their 22-20 defeat to Ballymena in the 2005 final.
In an entertaining encounter, 'Quins led decisively by 16-0 at half-time. They hit the front with a fifth-minute penalty from winger Willem Slabbert, who went on to tally up 17 points.
Ballymena, who maintained their AIB League Division One status this season, almost responded with a try but a break by centre Chris Brigl and carry by place-kicker Craig Woods came to nothing as 'Quins scrambled back to defend their line.
Ward's men moved 10-0 clear in the 23rd-minute when winger Tomas Horner brilliantly burst into space and Ulster centre Darren Cave was up in support to take Horner's pass and glide over close to the posts.
Slabbert converted but both sides' lost momentum when Harlequins out-half Rory Blake-Knox with a bad leg injury. He had to be stretchered off, halting play for a good eight minutes and forcing the Belfast side to move Horner into the number 10 slot and captain Colin Atkinson went from the back row to the wing.
Atkinson, the eventual man-of-the-match, played a pivotal role for 'Quins, the league winners from earlier in the season, and his versatility was vital as they survived the loss of Blake-Knox, who thankfully did not break anything.
Slabbert landed his second penalty for 13-0 and 'Quins improved their lead in first half injury-time with Slabbert again on target after Ballymena's Ulster-contracted number 8 Chris Henry was sin-binned.
The Braidmen hit back in the 54th-minute when winger Brian Mitchell scurried over for a try which caught the 'Quins rearguard napping. Woods converted to cut the gap to nine points.
Although Slabbert notched a well-taken drop goal, Ballymena were beginning to have spells of dominance. They were unfortunate when a Woods penalty shot bounced off an upright and the same players was held up in the corner by Atkinson.
Jacques Benade's side kept plugging away and got their reward, 11 minutes from time, when a lovely grubber kick forward from out-half Paul Campbell was touched down by centre Peter Budina, with Woods adding the extras.
Slabbert and Woods swapped further penalties but there was no more scoring action as 'Quins held on by a five-point margin to end the Ward era on a winning note.
BELFAST HARLEQUINS:: K Pyper; T Horner, D Cave, S Stewart, W Slabbert; R Blake-Knox, D Creighton; N Conlon, R Logan, C Voisey, G Rourke, N McComb, A Ward, C Atkinson (capt), S Robinson.
Replacements used: D Johnston for Blake-Knox (39 mins), G Jewhurst for Rourke (48).
BALLYMENA: M Banks; C Woods, C Brigl, P Budina, B Mitchell; P Campbell, D Drake; A Kirkpatrick, M Harshaw, S Shawe (capt), I Caldwell, D Best, A Cupples, D McKee, C Henry.
Replacements used: C Smith for Cupples (25 mins), J Taggart for Shawe (65), C Allen for Caldwell (53), A Smyth for Brigl (70).
Referee: Colin Stanley (Ulster)