Ulster's Best laid plans
Rory Best may not be able to lead Ulster into their first Magners League fixture of 2009/10, but the missing captain has no intention of missing out on any opportunity to summon his troops and rally them into action.
So when he issues a call for his players to meet this season’s challenge, they are unlikely to ignore it. Best is their leader and a man for whom they have enormous respect and regard. That being the case, they will not want to disappoint him.
Darren Cave is one he has singled out, urging the talented centre to assert himself as never before. Now 22, Best feels the time has come for him to come to the fore, present his case and make it impossible to ignore him.
Best admits that it won’t be easy being unable to influence things on the pitch.
“I’m not a great spectator. I get terribly frustrated inside,” the skipper said. “The important thing is not to show it.
“I’ve been out on the pitch enough times to know that when you’re there doing your best you don’t need anybody — especially fellow players — sitting in the stand and slating you for having made a wrong decision.
“It’s very easy to do that, whereas in the heat of the battle it isn’t always easy to get things right every time. But inside I’ll be frustrated, having been involved in things on the field for so long.
“Brian (McLaughlin) and Jeremy (Davidson) have come out and named me as captain for the season, and they’ve just said that in doing that it is important that I do stay around and be seen to be about.
“What my exact role will be I don’t know at this stage. We’ll see. The bottom line is that I’ll do whatever I can to help Ulster.”
And in offering Cave the benefit of his advice, he said: “The like of Darren isn’t a young player any more. He’s had 20 Ulster starts and he’s got two caps for Ireland so it’s time to show — on a consistent, regular basis — that he is fit to be mentioned in the same sentence as Brian O’Driscoll.
“It’s very much in his hands. If he wants to do it, it’s all there for him.
“It’s the same for Tom Court. He’s a Grand Slam winner but in many ways he’s still got a lot to prove. It’s up to these boys now to be driven and to go on and really stamp their mark on it. It really is time to step up and show what they can do. You can be branded with being ‘a youngster’ but before you know it you’re 25 and you’re not a youngster any more.
“Stevie (Ferris) is a case in point; he’s 24 now and all of a sudden that sounds a lot older than 23. But for someone like him it’s not a problem. He loves stepping up every week and trying to bring others with him.”
But Ferris will not be available for Magners League action for three more weeks.
Another of those to whom Ulster will look in Best’s absence is Paddy Wallace, who is fit to resume having missed each of the three pre-season friendlies.
He, too, was one of Ireland’s 2009 Grand Slam heroes — 24 caps to date — so he will be expected to make his considerable experience count.
Now 30 — his birthday was on August 27 — he is one of the squad’s older heads.
At the opposite end of the age scale is flanker, David Pollock, at this stage sidelined by injury. He is on the road to recovery, however, and when available he will certainly push for inclusion in the youthful back row. The others in contention are Thomas Anderson (22), Robbie Diack (23), Willie Faloon (23 at the end of September), Ferris (just turned 24) and Matt McCullough who, in that he turns 28 next Wednesday, is the most ‘senior’ member of the unit.
For now, Best’s hope is that his colleagues will play as he believes they can, thereby enabling Ulster to reap the rewards.