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Rory Best: Ulster will put up a real fight to the end in Challenge Cup

By Nick Purewal

Ulster are kicking themselves for chances missed so far in this term's Champions Cup, according to skipper Rory Best.

The 32-year-old, who could well be rested for this weekend's trip to France to play Toulon, admits that self-inflicted wounds have cost his side dearly.

"I think the frustrating thing for us is losing at the Scarlets: a win there would have just put everything in our hands," said the Ireland hooker.

"It would have left us with two wins from our last two games and we'd have definitely qualified.

"So that's frustrating but there's nothing we can do about that now.

"So we'll probably have to rely on other teams for results to go the way we want.

"There's still a chance, it's slighter than we'd like but where there's still a chance so we'll fight for it.

"All the groups are so tight, and with everyone beating each other, who knows what points tally teams will get through with in second place.

"It's extremely exciting to face Toulon over there as we are this weekend, you're going up against almost two teams of world-class players; that's how strong their squad is.

"But we have to realise they are not unbeatable.

"If you can get under their skin and get them rattled, they are fallible, and that's where you've got to take them to."

Meanwhile, Best has warned that the Challenge Cup will 'drift away' unless changes are made to European rugby's knockout competitions.

Best believes teams across Europe will not take the Challenge Cup seriously unless lifting the title guarantees qualification to the top-tier Champions Cup.

Best has called on European bosses to restore the system of teams failing to qualify for Champions Cup quarter-finals dropping into the second-tier knockout stages.

Ulster could yet finish second in pool three of the Champions Cup, but still find themselves dumped out of European competition altogether this term.

"There's a real worry certainly from players I've talked to that the second-tier competition could drift away, and that the gap between the two tournaments becomes wider rather than it narrowing," Best said.

"I think it's wrong not to have teams dropping down from the Champions Cup to the second-tier competition for the knockout stages.

"And another glaring error in the revamp of the competitions is not to have included the winners of the Challenge Cup as an automatic qualifier for the next season's Champions Cup."

Ulster could finish second in a pool also comprising Leicester Tigers and the Scarlets - who face each other evening - and reigning European champions Toulon but find themselves out of the competition.

Best believes whoever finishes second in pool three will have done enough to merit a quarter-final in at least one of Europe's two club competitions.

"If you happen to finish second in a group containing the Scarlets, Leicester and Toulon, that's still one heck of an achievement," he said. "There probably won't be a best runner-up out of our group as everyone will probably beat each other at home, bar obviously us already failing to beat Toulon.

"But to win all your home games, lose away games against top teams, finish second in that group and have no knockout rugby at all, I think that's harsh.

"It would be harsh on whoever it could happen to in that group."

Belfast Telegraph

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