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Rory Best sets sights on happy return for Ulster

Rory psyched up for first appearance of season as Ulster bid to end sad run of Glasgow defeats

Jonathan Bradley

Published 20/09/2016

Standing tall: Rory Best is hoping to return to action as big tests lie ahead for Ulster
Standing tall: Rory Best is hoping to return to action as big tests lie ahead for Ulster
Brendan Guidera, Operations Director for Tesco NI; Caoimhe Mannion, Marketing Manager for Tesco NI; Alastair Ross MLA, Junior Minister in the Office of the First Minister; Best; Simon Hamilton, Minister for the Economy; and Vincent Cleary, Managing Director for Glenisk, the IRFU’s official yoghurt

Ulster stalwart Rory Best says the province do not have a mental block when it comes to playing at Glasgow's Scotstoun Stadium.

The province have never won a league game at the current home of Gregor Townsend's men and, although they did enjoy victory there in the Heineken Cup, they have lost on their last five visits, including a PRO12 semi-final two seasons ago.

Despite the poor record, Best believes it will not be playing on the minds of his team-mates come their return to Scotland's second city on Friday evening (7.35pm kick-off).

"I don't think it's a mental hurdle," said the Ireland and Lions hooker.

"It's definitely not something that we've discussed. When you look at our results there, what's really been the most disappointing thing is that some of our performances haven't been that good.

"Too many times we've been in a really good position there but given them just half an opportunity - you go back to the penalty with about five minutes to go in the (2015) semi-final loss. We were doing pretty well but those little moments just turn a game on its head."

Having not played since captaining Ireland's tour to South Africa in June due to the IRFU's Player Welfare Programme, the 34-year-old is hoping to feature in the game against the 2015 champions and admits he is itching to get back into the thick of the action.

"We're rugby players because we love the games," he said. "There's not many out there who enjoy training but hate playing in games. It'll be great to get back and whether it's for Glasgow or the week after, I'll have to wait and see.

"It'll be a conversation between Joe (Schmidt) and Les (Kiss) and I'll have to do whatever. For me, the sooner I'll be back playing the better, though. I'm ready to go. It's now that you start to really miss it. I've been doing a lot of training with Hendy (Iain Henderson) in the past couple of weeks and now that he's away back to play, I've been on my own. It's a lonely old place even if we picked up a few people along the way."

Eagerly anticipating his return to the fold, Best knows he is set to return just as the rugby season amps up in intensity. Ulster, who are second in the PRO12 after three wins from three to start the season, face Glasgow, Ospreys and Connacht in the next three weeks before kicking off their Champions Cup campaign away to Bordeaux in mid-October.

Last season, Ulster began their European season with defeat to Saracens and, despite four wins in the next five, could not force their way into the knockout stages. This time around, Best believes the run of fixtures will have the province primed to hit the ground running in the competition.

"I think that after this week we should have everyone available and ready to play," he said. "We're building into a massive campaign. Europe isn't far down the road and we need to build some momentum with our performances.

"You look at the run - Glasgow, Ospreys, Connacht - that's a really, really good run-in to get you battle hardened for Europe. We need to perform in those games. When you get internationals back you expect a certain level of performance straight off the bat from those guys, myself included."

Europe, of course, is not all that looms on the horizon for Best with the Autumn internationals, where Ireland will have two cracks at a first ever win over the All Blacks, now less than two months away.

"Everyone thinks the All Blacks game in Chicago is miles away but it'll come around in the blink of an eye," he added.

"Everyone is keen to play, not just because it's the All Blacks but to go to Chicago and experience something different. Everyone wants to put their hand up for it."

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