Magners League: Best gunning for Ulster's wild west battle
Ulster captain Rory Best has played Connacht often enough to know what to expect.
Traditionally the men from the west are as hard as Connemara marble. They take no prisoners. They major in getting in among opponents, disrupting them, sabotaging their feeder lines and cutting all supply channels.
Real spoilers who thrive in the devastation inflicted on opponents.
But anyone heading to Ravenhill tonight (7.05 kick-off) believing that there is nothing more to Connacht rugby than that stereotypical image, could be in for a jolt.
There’s a lot more to football a la west these days, a fact Best is keen to acknowledge.
“It’s an inter-pro, so it’s going to be physical. But they’re going to see themselves as having a really good opportunity, given that we’re coming off the back of two disappointing results. Connacht will see it as a chance,” the hooker said.
“Under Eric Elwood they’ve been able to marry the really dogged determination — and getting stuck into you and fighting and scrapping with you — with actually playing quite a bit of rugby now.
“That’s good to see and it’s good to play against. They seem to have got that mix about right and they’re doing it quite well, so they’re going to come looking to play a bit.
“Hopefully it will be a good evening (weather-wise) and hopefully both teams will come to play.”
Connacht’s fresh approach notwithstanding, their fiercely aggressive approach remains a mainstay of their game. That being the case, Best knows Ulster must be equal to the challenge that will pose. Certainly there can be no repeat of the first-half non-show against Leinster on Saturday night, when the hosts ran in four pre-interval tries.
“We’re under no illusions. We lost that game because we didn’t turn up physically,” the skipper conceded.
“We very nearly beat Northampton a week before because we did turn up physically and that’s really where it’s going to be won and lost — the physicality, the battle up front.
“If we can get dominance there, it will go a long way to dictating the result.”
Stressing the disappointment the forwards in particular felt after losing to Leinster — who ended up scoring five tries to Ulster’s two — Best made no attempt to paper over the cracks or the facts of the RDS nightmare.
“We’ve talked a lot about it and certainly the forwards were bitterly disappointed with the first 43, 44 minutes of the Leinster game,” he said.
But Best is quick to add a positive note to that assessment.
“With the ambitious group of players we have, you not only hope, you expect, a very positive reaction against Connacht,” he said.
He sought also to put a positive spin on the fact that qualification for the semi-finals by virtue of a Magners League top four finish is likely to see Ulster paired with Munster in Limerick or Leinster in Dublin. Neither is a happy hunting ground for Ulster sides.
“In Thomond Park on New Year’s Day we felt we played quite well for 70 minutes and then just fell away a wee bit,” said Best of Ulster’s 35-10 defeat on January 1. “Given the team we had out, that probably wasn’t a bad performance.
“Obviously you’d want to play your games at home, but the good thing about being away to Leinster or Munster is that it’s still within the island.
“It would be a short trip for us and we’d be playing against teams we know, so that would give us a good opportunity to put down a marker.
“There’s no doubt that Munster and Leinster are up there and, as the table suggests, they’re two of the top teams in this league. So it would be nice to go there and right some of the results — the poor results — we’ve had against them this season.
“If that happened to be the case, then I think going there is something this squad would look forward to doing,” Best added.
However, let’s not rush ahead. First, Ulster must negotiate the Connacht and Dragons hurdles. Time enough at that point thinking about semi-final venues.