Magner's League: Best to weather Galway storm
Rory Best was an absentee 12 months ago when Ulster made the long south-westerly trek to Galway to face Connacht in the fourth round of the 2009/10 Magners League.
Laid low at the time by a bulging disc — a chronic condition which required surgery and kept him sidelined until late January 2010 — the Ulster captain missed out on his side’s 30-6 triumph on September 25, 2009.
He has no such problems this time and is relishing the challenge with which Connacht — currently fourth in the 12-club table — will provide second-placed Ulster a year to the day after their most recent win in Galway.
Best knows only too well that when the wind blows straight in off the Atlantic, the city’s famous Sportsground can be a particularly difficult venue. Stir in a vociferous, wholly partisan crowd along with a fired up home pack and you have all the ingredients for very hard night’s work.
To that add the fact that Best’s opposite number, Sean Cronin, will go out of his way to ensure that his Irish team-mate’s visit is no enjoyable social occasion.
“To go to any club in this league is difficult. To go to Connacht, well — they’ve a very passionate home crowd and they’re very passionate people,” said Best.
“The Connacht shirt means a lot to them so when you go into their backyard you know you can expect a fight and a tussle.
“The other variable is the weather. You’re right on the west coast so you could get anything — the sun might be splitting the trees or you might have hailstones or snow. You just don’t know.
“Connacht in Galway is no easy match; Leinster and Munster have found that out in recent years so we’ll be giving them the respect they deserve.
“You have to give any side that gets to a European semi-final — as Connacht did last year — a great deal of respect and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.”
The scrum will be crucial and Best is delighted that vastly experienced Irish referee Alain Rolland will be the man in charge.
“He’s one of the best in the business. Whatever way he sticks his arm you know it’s going to be the right call and a good call,” he says.
And having BJ Botha alongside in the front row is another plus. The skipper’s assessment of what the Springbok tighthead brings to the equation is: “First and foremost BJ is a scrummager, which is what you need in Galway.”
Leinster are the Schools' Under-18 champions after their win over Munster but Ulster finished in second with a 22-10 victory over Connacht.
BRA out-half Stuart Olding, who contributed 24 points in the first two games, again showed his skills with a further 12.
He put his team in front after 10 minutes with a try in the corner following a break from Chris Farrell and 11 minutes later when a Connacht move broke down, Olding raced in from half-way and then converted.
Ross Keller reduced the arrears with a penalty but ‘turnover ball’ on their own 10-metre line resulted in Ulster’s Rory Scholes going in for a try to make the score 17-3 at the interval.
In the second period Keller goaled a Conor Fitzgibbon try but Marc Best finished off a passing movement to touch down in the corner to seal the win.