Belfast Telegraph

Ulster captain Rory Best asks for brave hearts in quest for PRO12 glory

By Michael Sadlier

Rory Best is gazing out over the pitch, as work continues in preparation for Saturday week's final, and you wonder if he is pondering on being there to actually take the trophy on the evening in question.

"I think it's obviously something you think about and lifting the trophy here would be incredible," he says of the possibility of becoming the first Ulster skipper to do so since Justin Harrison way back in 2006.

Indeed, Best was part of that side which dramatically secured the then Celtic League title at the Ospreys thanks to David Humphreys's dramatic drop goal in the days when the league was decided by the side who simply finished top.

"The further back (in the season) you are the more you think about it, but the closer it (the final) gets the more you just focus on what is the next game.

"And if we look beyond Glasgow, not only will we lose but we'll be beaten comfortably," he states, knocking down any notion that he is losing focus or drifting off into whimsy.

"For us, we now have to do everything within our powers to make sure when the final comes here that we're one of the teams involved," adds the skipper.

"It's worth stressing that we've got to prepare ourselves for a massive battle," he says of tonight and then adds familiar phrase, "We're gearing ourselves to have to do something special."

Yes, Glasgow, in Glasgow. It could hardly be much tougher and Best acknowledges the case while pointing out that both sides have been striving to make the big breakthrough over the last few seasons regarding getting their hands on the shiny stuff.

"Yeah, we've both come up against Leinster over the last number of years," Best says with a smile at the memory which for Ulster also involved a tanking at the Heineken Cup final of three years ago.

"Neither of us have managed to win a (PRO12) final but one of us will have the opportunity this year to try and right that."

The 32-year-old accepts that the performance at Scotstoun last week didn't hit the mark on the last game of the regulation season which, as things worked out, pitched both sides together again for the knockout stages, but makes it clear that the slate has been wiped clean for tonight. It's a new game, with something clearly at stake.

"We do feel we're building (our performances) and we know it's going to take a combination of those three successive interpro games (Connacht, Leinster and Munster, which saw Ulster win the first two and draw the latter) before last weekend's game with Glasgow to win this game.

"For instance, the performance against Connacht isn't going to be enough to beat Glasgow, the performance against Leinster isn't going to be enough to beat Glasgow and the performance against Munster isn't going to be enough to beat Glasgow.

"This one is going to have to be at those levels but mixed in with all the good bits from those three games and then improved again," says Ireland's most capped hooker.

Naturally, the away record regarding the PRO12 semi-finals crops up - namely, that no visiting side has won any which have previously been contested and that Glasgow haven't been beaten in the league at Scotstoun since November 2013 - and he addresses the issue with his usual candour.

"They're quite rightly favourites as teams don't traditionally win away from home in this competition in the semi-finals," Best says.

"Yes, it's going to be quite a task to go away and win that first semi-final," he admits before mention is made of what was once the Thomond Park factor for Munster which, as Ulster have proved, is no longer such an intimidating prospect.

"Look somebody's going to go away and win a semi-final at some stage, somebody will eventually win away from home.

"Yes, it's tough to go away to Glasgow, yes it's tough to win, but why can't we do it?"

And, again, he draws what has been achieved before to illustrate the point that, if they get things right on the night, this season-defining game could work out fine for the visitors.

"In the past we've had some very good results away from home and that is what we're going to have to draw on now, that bit of experience along with making sure make that we're good on the night."

As for Ulster actually having a slight edge due to them fielding a much changed team from last week's, Best doesn't entertain the notion as really being up for serious consideration.

"We didn't give a lot away in terms of some of the selections, but they'll have seen us playing a lot of times.

"They will probably feel that they did enough to get the bonus point so that hasn't shown us a whole lot either," he adds while ignoring the fact the Warriors went full pelt for their fourth try.

Best takes another look at the pitch below him and departs with an observation which could hardly be more direct.

"This weekend," he says, "all the talking is going to have to stop. We're going to have to deliver it (the win)."

Nothing else is worth contemplating.

Belfast Telegraph

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