Best foot for­ward as Ul­ster get new lease of life

Veteran hooker backs up his influential role off the bench in win over Cardiff

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Rugby - GERRY THORN­LEY

Ru­mours of Rory Best’s demise, and of Ul­ster be­ing a spent Euro­pean con­tender, have proved false. There’s plenty of life left yet in the old dog, and in Ul­ster’s sea­son too.

Best has un­der­lined his con­tin­u­ing value to coun­try and province in the last month. Af­ter lead­ing Ire­land to their first home vic­tory over the All Blacks, he has backed up his influential role off the bench in Ul­ster’s win over Cardiff in the Pro14 and now in the back-to-back wins over the Scar­lets.

The change of tack un­der his cap­taincy was ev­i­dent when Ul­ster turned to their maul and more di­rect run­ning dur­ing the first half, and the 10-points haul over last sea­son’s beaten semi-fi­nal­ists has left Ul­ster well placed to qual­ify for the quar­ter-fi­nals for the first time in five sea­sons.

With Rac­ing also com­plet­ing a 10-point haul over Le­ices­ter on Sun­day, the Parisians come to the Kingspan Sta­dium on Jan­uary 12th for what will hope­fully closer to a full house than last Fri­day night. On 14 points, and with Le­ices­ter away on the fi­nal Satur­day, Ul­ster are well placed and as one of the few sur­vivors from those days, Best ap­pre­ci­ates what a re­turn to the last eight would rep­re­sent.

“I think it is a com­pe­ti­tion that is very spe­cial to any­one that plays top level rugby in Europe. It would be very spe­cial for this group to go through with what we have been through the last 12-18 months to take a step up. That is where we want to get.”

‘En­joy­ing our rugby’

“I think you can see now, this sea­son, we are en­joy­ing our rugby, we are try­ing to play with the pace, with width. I think that ev­ery per­son out there, es­pe­cially in the last two weeks, looked like they wanted to have the ball in their hand and when they do not, they want to go and de­fend for each other.

“The coaches have been drilling it for a while now. Some­times it just takes time to click. We are far from the fin­ished ar­ti­cle, but I think there is a real want to be bet­ter and Ul­ster teams in the past would have went to the Scar­lets and prob­a­bly got beaten for a start, but to go there and pro­duce a good per­for­mance and get four or five points we would have then racked up the next week and a lit­tle bit taken for granted.”

“It is go­ing to be steps for­ward and a step back some­where along the line be­cause they are young but the more we can add for­ward and the more ex­pe­ri­ence we get of what it takes to play at this level and to per­form at this level the bet­ter it will be.”

As for his form, the 36-year-old hooker said: “I am rea­son­ably happy with how I have been play­ing all year, I am en­joy­ing it. It is nice get­ting out there and nice be­ing a part of a pack that want to phys­i­cal and want to take teams on; some­thing I have al­ways tried to do. Some­times it does not al­ways hap­pen, but you try to en­joy your rugby and get stuck in and be as good as you can be your­self, but also try to af­fect peo­ple around you and make them bet­ter if you can.”

Dra­matic emer­gence

The dra­matic emer­gence of the 23-year-old Tem­pleogue and Academy prop, Eric O’Sullivan (who less than a year ago was try­ing to break into the Ban­bridge first team but un­der­lined his fit­ness with two big shifts in the last two Fri­days) has given Best “a new lease of life.” Cou­pled with Marty Moore’s in­creas­ing match fit­ness, the Ul­ster side is un­recog­nis­able from the Oc­to­ber games.

“I no­ticed a big dif­fer­ence af­ter be­ing away in the au­tumn,” re­vealed Best. “Be­fore I went away in the au­tumn I just couldn’t get com­fort­able in the scrum with what­ever was go­ing on, and the boys have worked un­be­liev­ably hard.

“When you go back into Ire­land, you sit along­side Tadhg (Fur­long) and Cian (Healy) and you think ‘al­right, this is what it feels like to be re­ally com­fort­able in the scrum’. Dur­ing that lit­tle fal­low pe­riod and into those cou­ple of games, Aaron Dun­don and Dan (McFar­land) have worked re­ally hard, Marty Moore has stepped up and taken a big lead and got­ten him­self match fit and got him­self in a good space.

“From the first scrum when I came back from the in­ter­na­tion­als, you sort of fit­ted in and felt like ‘this feels more like a scrum that can ac­tu­ally try to at­tack now’. Those boys have worked re­ally hard, and you have to take your hat off to the boys.”

“Some­times you won­dered over the last cou­ple of years when the in­ter­na­tion­als were away if the boys would just put their feet up, but that’s not the case now and I think it sums up where we’re at and where we want to go.”

‘‘ Be­fore I went away in the au­tumn I just couldn’t get com­fort­able in the scrum with what­ever was go­ing on

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.