Belfast Telegraph

Heineken Cup: Ulster ace Best hopes his glass is half full

By Niall Crozier

Ulster skipper Rory Best has put his chances of leading the side into their biggest match since 1999 as “probably less than 50-50”.

Ulster visit Italian side Aironi on Saturday needing a win to secure a Heineken Cup quarter-final place.

“It’s going to be touch and go. It was a bad enough injury. A rib cartilage popped out during the Biarritz game and then popped back in again on Saturday night,” said Best.

“But with it going out and then back in again the ligaments and tendons will have been slightly stretched.

“Scrummaging is going to be the big problem and I’ll not know until I’ve done that — not only against the machine but live, too.

“If I’m being honest I’d say I’m a major doubt,” was his honest self-assessment. “You don’t want to be in a position where you might let the team down by making a mistake because you’re trying to protect your ribs.

“And we have enough strength in depth in the squad not to have to take any risks in a match with so much at stake.

“I’m probably less than 50-50 and if I’m to have any chance, the healing would have to continue at the sort of rate it has been going at in the past few days.

“If I hadn’t been named in the squad then that definitely would have ruled me out. They didn’t want to do that and so as long as they’re prepared to give me a chance then I’m happy to take it.”

While he would hate to miss out on participation in what is Ulster’s biggest match since winning the European Cup 12 years ago, he is too professional to allow personal disappointment to jeopardise his team’s pursuit of a place in the quarter-finals — the first since that 1999 triumph.

“It’s the first time in my experience that we’ve gone into the final round of group games knowing that a win will get us to where we all want to be,” he said.

“Last year we went to Bath (then, too, Best missed out through injury) but realistically it was going to take a bonus point win over there and that was a really massive ask. Then, the following day, it was taken out of our hands when results elsewhere went against us. Everyone watched that happen and everyone was bitterly disappointed when it did.

“But this time round we’re in a completely different position. We know what is needed and it’s in our own hands.

“Probably one of the best things that could have happened in the group was Biarritz losing in Aironi before Christmas.

“Not only did it help our position — it has also reminded us that we can’t go there and take anything for granted.”

Had it not been for his admission that he is struggling to be fit, you would never have known that he may play no on-field part.

Best was attending a Farmhouse Breakfast Week event, organised by Whites porridge oats, where he highlighted the importance of the cereal in his rugby-playing diet.

Rory and dad John revealed that eating porridge for breakfast has been a tradition passed down over generations in the farming family — and will be passed on to Rory’s six-month-old son, Ben.

His enthusiasm for Saturday’s crunch was also as plain as his clear faith in the team’s ability to deliver the required result, with or without him being on the pitch.

“Biarritz losing at Aironi has helped us all to re-focus. Our fate is in our own hands.

“But we have to take the opportunity. No-one is going to hand it to us,” he warned.

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