Heineken Cup: Success smells like team spirit for Best
Rory Best points to the fact that the Ulster team is a settled, happy unit as one of the factors in this season’s played five, won four Heineken Cup record.
“We’re now in January and the team has largely been the same the whole way through.
“So we don’t need a lot of fine-tuning; the biggest challenge for us is mentally to make sure that we’re in the right place come Saturday,” he explains.
The mood and self-belief among the players is tangible and, as skipper, Best takes particular pleasure in that. Players who have faith in their own ability — and that of those around them — can achieve much.
“That has been something that we’ve seen in others in the past. Some of us have been around Irish camps that have won Triple Crowns and a Grand Slam, for example,” he said.
“Most of us know the Munster boys and the Leinster boys and we’ve seen how they interact and the camaraderie they have.
“I wouldn’t say we want to emulate that; we want to form our own atmosphere and we’re definitely getting there.
“Johann (Muller) has said that we perform a lot better at the weekend when we’re nice and relaxed in training, having a bit of craic. There’s always a bit of banter going on, but we focus in when it becomes time to do that.
“There is no doubt that over the past two or three months that atmosphere has been building and simmering. You can see it in our training sessions — everyone wants to be there and to be part of it because we enjoy it.
“We enjoy each other’s company on and off the field and undoubtedly that has helped us.”
Another of the factors he highlights is Ulster’s improved on-field discipline.
“That has been a big issue for us in the past couple of years,” he admits. “But this season it has vastly improved and last weekend against Biarritz I think you saw just how much more disciplined we have become.
“The first half was a lot easier for us because we weren’t putting ourselves under pressure as a result of giving away penalties. It was Biarritz who were giving away the penalties and that was important.
“We knew going into that match that the team able to keep their discipline would win it and that’s how it worked out.
“Biarritz conceded six early penalties and on a different day we could have kicked those.
“With us playing into a gale we weren’t able to do that, but the important thing was that because we were disciplined we didn’t give them opportunities when they had the wind behind them.”
And although Ulster have tried to downplay the European venture, their captain admits that Heineken Cup rugby is special.
“A European weekend starts on a Friday evening and goes right through to Sunday afternoon. It’s rugby, rugby, rugby which is a very different experience. And certainly when you have something to play for it’s a great feeling.
“Our knock-out phase really started on the Monday before the Biarritz game. We knew we had two games and that if we won them we’d be through.
“It’s pressure, yes, but it’s a nice sort of pressure.”