Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Rugby: Rory Best fires off New Year wish

Skipper demands battle for silverware stepped up

By Michael Sadlier

Throughout the conversation there are regular expressions of frustration at what has been happening, with the urgent need of finding greater consistency also featuring prominently.

Yes, Rory Best isn't exactly happy at what has been going on of late and the skipper's job this week has been particularly challenging as he tries to lift an injury-wracked squad ahead of a visit to the RDS and Leinster, a side they have regularly struggled to beat competitively particularly down in Dublin.

"We're a bit patchy at the minute because every week we're having to change the team through injuries and it just makes for scrappy performances," Best said ahead of his return to the side after missing the Connacht clash through the Ireland player management programme.

"We're getting things right in training, but we've just to keep pushing to improve that accuracy," adds Ireland's most capped hooker who will be up against fellow international Richardt Strauss today (kick-off 2.40 and live on Sky Sports and BBC NI) while his main rival for the green shirt, Sean Cronin, is on Leinster's bench.

"I just think we are lacking a bit of consistency," maintains Best when picking over Ulster's recent games which has seen them lose two from their last three in all competitions while dealing with a still damaging injury profile.

"We're starting games well and then maybe going to sleep in that middle bit and then finishing strongly. Or else we're not starting games well. We're just too up and down.

"So we have to look for more consistency and we can't mentally wander in a game."

He then gives us his slant on December's two consecutive defeats in Wales when first the Scarlets, in Europe, and then the Ospreys, in the PRO12, got the better of an Ulster side which had Best centrally involved in both encounters.

"I think they (the two defeats) were very frustrating and I think in those two games we got put under a lot of pressure and struggled," he recalls.

And though things were on a sounder footing in last weekend's narrow victory over Connacht, the 32-year-old doesn't pull his punches when discussing what lies ahead today at the RDS.

"This team this weekend will test our consistency better than anyone else," he says with appropriate conviction.

He was part of the first Ulster side to win a competitive game in Dublin this side of the Millennium, when they produced a stirring rearguard performance to sneak a 22-18 result back in March 2013, so he has acquired some useful knowledge regarding just how difficult it has been to take Leinster down on their own territory.

"They're (Leinster) in a similar place to us in that they're struggling a little bit and they'll be back at home but there will be a lot of pressure on them to win as well," adds Best.

"The three-point gap between us and them could very quickly become seven if we beat them," he added .

"And seven at this stage is quite a gap so the pressure is on them."

He is right of course. But don't reckon that Best is banking on the hope that Leinster's current situation will make life that bit easier. Far from it and he taps into the 2013 experience to explain what it will take to get the better of Matt O'Connor's squad today.

"We had a lot of injuries that day as well and a lot of boys coming back from injury who weren't match-fit.

"I think we finished that game with Kyle McCall at tight-head against Cian Healy," Best recalls, "but it doesn't matter what position you're in, you just dig in.

"You have to go to a place (mentally and physically) that is tough to get there and tough to live there but that's where you have to be.

"And when you're there you try to push yourself again," Best adds warming to the message that has undoubtedly been delivered to the players on today's mission.

"So it's a case of, 'don't be shocked about how tough it is, but at the same time don't be shocked when you are able to match that toughness and go beyond it.'

"If we can go there (to that place) I've no doubt we will win the game."

With just one win and a draw from seven away games, Best knows Ulster just have to start picking up results on the road.

"If we fluctuate too much in this game, they have a lot of firepower and they will make us pay."

And then he turns his attention to what he feels has been, injuries aside, at the core of Ulster's inconsistency.

"At the minute we need a little bit more from our established players. I think some of the guys who are coming in maybe didn't expect to play so much and I don't think you can fault the way they're playing and they're not letting anyone down."

The captain has spoken and those around him will have listened. Great

Belfast Telegraph


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