Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Ulster will kill Montpellier's morale early, says Rory Best

Rory Best

Opposing hookers can be left feeling like they have been squeezed between the Alps and the Massif Central. Not a pleasant experience.

Although those who, like Best, face the French on a regular basis and, as a result, know what is coming when the packs lock horns, that does not mean the force can be resisted.

Awareness of the power of a nuclear explosion does not negate its effect, especially when faced by a team led by the considerable presence that is Fulgence Ouedraogo.

"There's a difference between recognising something and being able to stop it," said the man who will today be in the middle of the Ulster front row and therefore the action.

"A lot of teams recognise French sides' ability, but if you don't have the power or the physical edge to stop it there's nothing you can do. And we all know what the French are like; if they get on a roll they are very, very hard to stop.

"They are very confidence-driven players, so when they get their tails up there's nothing they can't do. They try everything and everything they try seems to come off.

"So that's the challenge for us as a pack of forwards, the set-piece being the main area – to get their tails down, to get them doubting themselves. Because once they doubt themselves, that's when they can become fragile.

"That's why you can go to places like Montpellier and others in France and get results once they start looking at each other and questioning one another. You'll notice that with French – when things start to go wrong, they can go wrong very, very quickly.

"The flip side is that Montpellier, at home, have been on top form this season. The Top 14 is a very tough league and the teams in it are very well matched, so to be sitting at the top of that let's you know what they're like.

"Last week, they went to Treviso and won. Now a lot of PRO12 teams go there and find they are unable to win, so we know this is going to be a tough challenge.

"But we feel that when we get things right we have the power and the physical edge to deal with them.

"It's all about stopping them getting momentum. Momentum in any sport is key, but especially rugby, especially in the European Cup and especially away from home," he said.

Last week's 22-16 home victory over Leicester Tigers, the reigning Aviva Premiership champions, has given Ulster the start they demanded of themselves. Now they want – and need – to back that up by doing what no other team has done since the start of the season, namely beat Montpellier on their own pitch before their baying, partisan supporters.

"We put Leicester to the sword everywhere but in the scoreline," Best said. "But I think there were aspects of our game and individual performances that can be a lot better.

"To be able to say that now, having beaten a team like Leicester, is a good sign for us and something that we take a lot of confidence from."

Indeed, it says much about his and Ulster's confidence that Best down-played the bonus point Leicester managed to bank from their trip to Ravenhill.

"It was disappointing to have given them that. It was a soft enough penalty and I conceded it, which is even more frustrating," he said. "But we talked before this started about controlling our own destiny.

"We wanted four points and there was pressure on us with the first game being at home to one of the top teams in the pool. That meant we were under a lot of pressure to win because if you lose a home game first up you're really going to be struggling.

"So we did that – we got those four points. And ultimately, if we get enough points in this group, it shouldn't matter what Leicester do.

"Hopefully by the end of this, we will have enough points accrued that we'll be going to Welford Road for the final group match knowing that a win will mean we top the pool.

"That's what we want, that's what I mean by us being in control of our destiny. If we can put ourselves in that position, we'll be very happy and confident in our ability to finish strongly, with a win. In that case that single bonus point won't really matter."

He and his comrades-in-arms will go into today's massive test armed with more of that same positivity. And just as Best played down the possible long-term importance of the bonus point Leicester pinched eight day ago, he is dismissive, too, of the value of a similar return on Ulster's part this afternoon.

He wants four points, not one, a fact he rammed home by saying: "If this was a quarter-final we wouldn't be talking about getting a bonus. That's the mentality we have to have – we want a minimum of four points from every game."

And if, after that, there is anyone who still requires persuasion as to Best's mindset, they can try this for size.

"We're working hard and we're not getting ahead of ourselves. Okay, we've beaten Leicester, but that's behind us and this is a fresh challenge. So let's beat Montpellier too, and then we can go into the autumn internationals in firm control of this Heineken Cup group."

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