Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Rory Best raring to go but Ulster hooker expects tough return

Back in action: Rory Best plays his first game in three months when he lines out for Ulster tonight
Back in action: Rory Best plays his first game in three months when he lines out for Ulster tonight

Rory Best lines out in the Ulster front row tonight for the first time since last May's RaboDirect PRO12 final defeat by Leinster in Dublin.

That was followed by a Lions tour on which he did not quite manage to show the standard of which people here know him to be capable.

Tonight, against Enrico Ceccato, he knows he will not have the luxury of being able to ease his way through the gears.

"It generally takes two-three games to be where you want to be. But you don't get a lot of time to get up there; you have to be up and running early," Ireland's most-capped hooker said.

"I'd like to think that it'll be a progression, getting slightly better every game. But I don't want it to be a case of having a shocker this weekend, slightly better the next one and a wee bit better again the week after that.

"I'd like to think I'll start from a standard that is somewhere close to where I can play, and then ideally get slightly better.

"There's a standard you demand of yourself, a certain level of performance you don't drop below," said Best.

It's almost three months since he played.

"It doesn't seem that long ago. But when you're coming back the pressure is put on you. You're an international player so there's a standard expected of you, but it's the same as the pressure I'd put on myself now," he said.

Asked how easy or difficult he finds it to watch Ulster play Best said: "It has been frustrating, but it's part and parcel now of the international game where you go on summer tours – whether with Ireland or the Lions – and you don't get until the end of June or early July.

"To look after your body you need the month's holiday and the six-week break so generally the season is well under way by the time we play; this is the eighth season that I haven't done a pre-season friendly game, so you get used to it.

"I suppose you keep telling yourself that you'll be back soon enough. It's a long time from the pre-season games in the middle of August to – hopefully – the finals at the end of May. So while you're itching to get back you know your body needs the break. Physically you need the time off to build up."

Best's comeback is against opponents he knows well and rates very highly.

"Treviso's record here speaks for itself," he said. "From they joined the PRO12 they've always been the strongest Italian team and every year they have got better, so their beating Munster last weekend wasn't a surprise. They probably should have beaten the Ospreys before that, too.

"So that's where they are, that's the standard they play to. They're a quality side and we will give them the respect they deserve.

"But more importantly, we need to get our own stuff right. We didn't do that against the Dragons so losing that wasn't so much a case of what they did – I think just about any team would have beaten us that night because we did so many things badly.

"Against Glasgow we got a lot of things right and played a lot of good rugby, but we just didn't take our chances. We talked last season about a few young Ulster boys having been on a steep learning curve in an international against Scotland. We lost a game we should have won and it was the same against Glasgow.

"There's a few young boys within the Ulster team who will have learned the same lesson.

"Maybe in the All-Ireland League or playing for the Ravens you'll get another chance to make amends. But when you get into PRO12, European or international rugby, you don't get that. You get one chance – one bullet, one kill. I think we'll be better for it.

"The Glasgow game was disappointing in terms of the result, but I was very pleased with the way the boys played, especially a young guy like Paddy Jackson.

"To have stepped up the way he did after having had so much pressure and criticism heaped on him after the Dragons game took a lot of courage. He got his kicks and he ran the game. We created three really, really good chances and most of them were of his making.

"That showed a lot of character and that's what we want here. We know we've got quality players, but we need to add character as well."

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