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Ulster can draw on Ireland heroics in final PRO12 push: Rory Best

By Michael Sadlier

Published 05/05/2015

Key experience: Rory Best has clinched Six Nations silverware with Ireland
Key experience: Rory Best has clinched Six Nations silverware with Ireland

This is it, the final phase of the season and no better man to issue the call to arms than Rory Best.

The plan is simple but far from straightforward. Ulster want to play four more times and be the side lifting the Guinness PRO12 trophy at the Kingspan Stadium on the last Saturday in May.

And there are two regulation season games left to achieve their immediate goal of bringing their semi-final to their home ground, starting with Munster on Saturday afternoon, who also happen to be gunning for a last-four game at home and are in second but only a point ahead of Ulster.

A repeat of what Best and co did so impressively to Leinster last time out is an essential requirement as the shakedown of who finishes first and second in the table to get the home semi-finals between the sides in the top four - Glasgow, Munster, Ulster and the Ospreys - looks set to go down to the wire.

Unfortunately for Ulster, they will then face the most difficult finish with the task of downing current leaders Glasgow at Scotstoun, but, first and foremost, Munster have to be seen off.

"This week will be huge," admitted Ulster skipper Best.

"It is going to take four massive performances to win the title. I have a lot of faith in this squad that we can deliver.

"The other three teams in the top four are not going to hand it to us, we have to go out and take it," said Best, who was awarded the Ulster Rugby Personality of the Year at last Friday's awards bash.

But there is a notion that the recent experience of winning trophies with Ireland has had a positive impact on key players Best and Iain Henderson - who have been part of the last two Six Nations title-winning sides - as well as Tommy Bowe who was also there in 2009, Jared Payne and, of course, Chris Henry, who played a big part in last year's success.

"We mentioned 12 months ago, in a dressing room in Paris (after securing the Six Nations), that this is what it takes to win something. At that stage there was hardly anyone left (on the side from Ulster) who had won the Grand Slam (in 2009)," Ireland's most capped hooker pointed out.

"So we (Ulster) did not have a lot of people who had that experience of winning (silverware). From that game (in Paris last year) and with some more Ulster players winning (with Ireland) this season, you realise what it takes."

Of course all this doesn't guarantee in-form Ulster anything, but there is still a feeling that Best and his team-mates certainly have an edge over Munster.

They have home advantage on Saturday where they have yet to lose a PRO12 game this season and they really ought to have beaten Munster when the sides met at Thomond Park last November.

"From an Ulster point of view we want to win something," says Best who is one of the dwindling number still around from the Magners League win of 2006, Ulster's last trophy success.

"We are a team that has grown in our levels of self-belief. I keep emphasising, however, that it has to get better week in and week out."

Ulster's high-profile All Black signing Charles Piutau has been ruled out for the remainder of his Super Rugby season with Auckland Blues after suffering medial ligament damage in last week's game over Western Force.

Piutau - due to join Ulster in July 2016 - will be out for six weeks which looks to have severely damaged his hopes of making the All Blacks World Cup squad.

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