Belfast Telegraph

Defiant Best bringing fresh hope to Ravenhill glory bid

By Niall Crozier

It's a quantum leap from facing Mickey Mouse, Pluto and Donald Duck to lining out against Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Mike Ross, but Ulster's Rory Best will have to make it this weekend.

In the aftermath of the Six Nations, Ireland's most capped hooker took well-earned time out with wife Jodie and their children, Ben and Penny, before returning to work and the task of trying to get Ulster back on track.

"They gave me a week off so I was in Disneyland, Paris, with the family. It felt a bit more like a pre-season week than a recuperation week," he says.

"Having been away for eight weeks during the Six Nations the family are put on the back burner so it was nice just to have been able to spend a bit of time with them before reporting back for work."

The job in hand is pretty onerous; away to Leinster this Saturday in the PRO12 is first up. After that it's Saracens at Twickenham with a place in the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup the prize for the victors.

Welcome back, Rory.

Impressively, he is keen to get on with things

"They're the sort of games you want to be part of," Best says. "From an Ulster point of view it doesn't get any bigger than playing the Heineken Cup holders in their own back yard.

"We talked about wanting to be in the shake-up at this stage of the season so the next two games are massive for us.

"We can gear ourselves for two big performances, two big results and two home semi-finals or we can make life very, very difficult for ourselves.

"Our recent results and performances haven't been what we'd have chosen, but we're still here, still on target," he insists. "The biggest key when you run as two teams is to see how the guys who are wearing bibs or holding bags are reacting.

"This week it has been fantastic in that respect. "I know I keep going back to it but since before the start of the season we have talked about needing to build a squad rather than a 15.

"The only way to win big games is to get a good response and impact from the guys who aren't in the starting 15.

"When you look at a massive game like Northampton away, that week the non-15 trained as well if not better than the starting 15.

"That's what you need because that means you go into the game prepared and ready. You haven't been lulled into any false sense of security by running through gaps that won't be there at the weekend.

"That's what we asked for on Monday morning and that's what we've got over the past two days."

While his own kith and kin missed him during the championship, so too did the Ulster family of which he is such an important member. He smiles sheepishly when reminded of that fact.

"Results right up to the end of January were such that even after a couple of defeats they left us in a position where you'd still feel very confident that we'd make the top four," he says.

It's his willingness to use words like "very confident" and "make the top four" that mark Best out as different.

He is admirably straight in dealing with the media, exuding a self-belief not always present in others, though that assuredness may well come from having 136 Ulster appearances and 67 Ireland caps to his credit.

"Okay," he assures you, "we haven't been brilliant in the past month or six weeks, but we have a lot of our injured players and our internationals coming back so we're still in pretty good place at the minute."

That said, he concedes that Leinster are favourites this Saturday night.

"Yes, they have their internationals back as well and their young players have done extremely well for them. They've won nine in a row so they're on a bit of a roll," he admits.

"It's going to be a very tough ask for us, but nevertheless we're supremely confident that we can go down there and do it."

Belfast Telegraph


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