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Leinster v Ulster Pro12 semi-final: I want to lift a trophy as Ulster captain of this side says Rory Best

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 20/05/2016

Ulster rugby fans pictured at Podium for Sport in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster. Pic Stephen Hamilton
Ulster rugby fans pictured at Podium for Sport in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster. Pic Stephen Hamilton
Ulsterleinster_2.jpg

When Rory Best looks over his shoulder in the tunnel of the RDS tonight, seconds before leading out his side for their Pro12 semi-final with Leinster, he'll see faces he is sure are going to taste plenty of success with Ulster. Follow the live updates below:

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What Rory Best doesn't know, is if he'll be the captain when they do it.

Iain Henderson spoke last month about how the young cadre of talent pushing Ulster's latest Pro12 charge are motivated by ensuring their skipper gets to add to Celtic League title he won back in 2006 and Best admits it would mean the world to be captain when the silverware drought belatedly ends.

"You look at the young guys, when they learn how to win, if they do it young enough they could go on to win several things," he said this week.

"Once they learn how far you have to push yourself to win that should be it.

"Leinster cottoned on to it then couldn't stop winning things and that's what you hope happens to these boys.

"If I'm still involved when they reach their potential, it would be massive for me.

"I make no secret that I have won a few things in my time but I think one of the biggest regrets is that I haven't been able to lift anything with Ulster (since 2006).

"If you go back to 2006, there were no play-offs. You finished top of the table and that was it.

"To come through a play-off system and get to a final where there are only two teams left in it and win would be a massive thing for me to be involved in.

"Obviously we have a massive 80 minutes before we think about that but the motivation for me is to lift a trophy with Ulster."

To do that this year, Ulster must do what has never been done - win a Pro12 semi-final away from home - but Best believes the squad have rarely been in a better place entering the play-offs.

With the stresses of a gruelling World Cup, and then a Six Nations campaign where he was installed as full-time captain for the first time, behind him, Ireland's most-capped hooker feels refreshed as part of a settled side that could be coming to the boil at just the right time.

"The disappointment of the World Cup and everything around that, it sort of feels you are back enjoying rugby again.

"Before that it really felt like a job.

"A lot of pressure went with the Six Nations but now we're back and it is a young exciting bunch of players here which is infectious.

"They are great to be around and you feel that you are enjoying rugby again.

"Lukey (Luke Marshall) and Jacko (Paddy Jackson) have performed all year for us.

"We have talked about hanging by a thread in previous years but getting Hendy (Iain Henderson) back with enough time to play into a bit of form going into these games, it's not like it's his first game back; he's had a few games and he is getting better.

"Every year we feel we are geared up to win it, and this year is no different, but I think probably the difference this year is that previously we have got to the end of the season and it has been whoever is left standing that takes the field.

"(Before) we get injuries leading into it and we are hanging on by a thread. We're nearly peaking at Christmas and the new year, then after that everyone is battered and bruised.

"This year it feels a little different in that we are peaking at the right time and we almost have a full squad.

"Bar missing a couple of big players, it's been a settled 23 over the last three or four games and maybe only one or two missing out at various times so all that is going for us."

If this year feels different for Ulster, tonight's opposition are wholly familiar.

Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016
Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at Podium for Sport in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster .
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at Podium for Sport in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster .
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at Podium for Sport in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster .
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at Podium for Sport in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster . Holly Smyth who flew home from Liverpool university to attend the match pictured with Sylvia Mahoney and Yvonne Smyth
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at Podium for Sport in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster . Holly Smyth who flew home from Liverpool university to attend the match
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at Podium for Sport in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster .
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at Podium for Sport in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster .
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster . Tom and Luke Martin from Belfast
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster .
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster . Tom and Luke Martin from Belfast
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster . Stephen and Dillon Gardiner from Belfast
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster . Tom and Luke Martin from Belfast
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster . Erin mcCracken and Caitlin Mcnally
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster .
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster . Erin mcCracken and Caitlin Mcnally
Ulster rugby fans pictured at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster. Pic Stephen Hamilton
Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland -20th May 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Ulster rugby fans pictured at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast ahead of tonights Guinness PRO12 semi final match against Leinster . Erin mcCracken and Caitlin Mcnally

Leinster have beaten their northern neighbours in knockout contests four times in the last five seasons with Ulster winning only once in Dublin since 1999.

It was a different story in Kingspan Stadium three weeks ago - Ulster winning comfortably, scoring three tries and conceding none - but history is still very much in the host's favour.

"They're a quality side that are used to winning play-off games and probably used to beating us in play-off games," Best said.

"They will be different.

"They are home, we know the quality of players they have and we know they expect to perform at this level.

"The flip side is they are at home, and they are the top- ranked side in the competition, so there is pressure on them.

"Historically no away side has ever won a semi-final but we feel that we are geared up and we want to be the first team to do it.

"It is going to be a massive challenge and it is one we feel we're up for and we feel we are in a good place to overcome it. It's their home semi-final and no one has lost one.

"The pressure is on them."

After suffering so much at the hands of their rivals when silverware is on the line, Best will be hoping that tonight shows every underdog has its day.

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