Brian McLaughlin brought discipline to Ulster
Rory Best credits Brian McLaughlin with giving the Ulster team their identity back revealing that, before the coach's arrival three years ago, discipline in the side was ‘horrendous on and off the pitch'.
McLaughlin's tenure as coach will finish at the end of the season, hopefully having guided Ulster to Heineken Cup glory.
When the subject of his controversial departure is mentioned, Best is as straight talking as always.
“When Brian first came in we were in a very shaky place,” said the Ulster and Ireland hooker.
“We had good players like Stevie (Ferris) Trimby (Andrew Trimble) and Paddy (Wallace) but we also had a lot of average players.
“Good people like Chris (Henry) and Darren (Cave) were being sent off to Exeter and nearly leaving.
“We had lost our identity. The 1999 team for example had heart, spirit and never gave up and I think we lost that and that's why it was important at that time to have someone who realised that and knew what Ulster was about.
“One of the first things Brian went about changing when he came in, was getting back our culture. As rugby players and a group the last thing you want to do is sit in culture meetings but he brought it in and made us do it and it was exactly what we needed.
“Our discipline was horrendous on and off the pitch. I don't want to use the word shambles but we weren't far off it. He made us a closer knit team. He brought in young Ulster coaches to help him and gave them a sense of ownership of the team while before that Matt Williams had tried to do everything himself.
“He took average players and started to make us believe that we really could beat anyone. He eventually brought back that Ravenhill feeling as well, that it does matter if we don't win on our own patch. That has grown in the last few years.”
So what about the decision from on high to replace him with Kiwi Mark Anscombe?
“In professional sport you have short contracts and you never know what will happen from one moment to the next,” says Best.
“In terms of Brian, Ulster decided the way to go was a change. We'll not know until this time next year if it was the right call, but the decision that was made needs to be taken from the point of a view of a full picture.
“We've done brilliantly to reach the semi-final stage of the Heineken Cup and now there is a lot of talk about Brian leaving, but these sorts of decisions aren't taken on one-off games and you have to put faith in people at the top to make informed decisions.
“I've known Brian for a long time and as a person I have a lot of time for him and he has been good for me but it's professional sport and you have to take emotion and sentiment out of it.”