Heineken Cup: Best intentions for Terblanche
Rory Best and Stefan Terblanche are at opposite ends of the scale in terms of Ulster experience. Tonight will see Best win his 118th cap for the province. Terblanche, in stark contrast, is making his debut in the white shirt.
Nor could the positions they occupy be more different. As hooker, Best packs down in the middle of the front row, hidden from the eyes of the crowd who can only wonder what actually goes on in there.
But as full-back, Terblanche is in the most exposed role on the field. No hiding place in his case. When the ball is hoisted high into the Belfast night sky, every eye in Ravenhill is going to be on the new man.
Best’s vast experience as an Ulster player dates back over seven years to his debut as a replacement for Paul Shields in the November 6, 2004 whipping by Munster who won a Celtic League inter-pro by an embarrassing 24-3 — at Ravenhill, too.
A day earlier Terblanche had played on the right wing for Ospreys in their 33-29 away win over Newport-Gwent Dragons.
Terblanche (pictured) is 36, Best is 29. So they have seen a lot. But never side by side. Now that is about to change.
The South African won 37 caps for his country, although the most recent of them was back in October 2003.
Best has represented Ireland in 54 Tests and, having fought his way to the head of the Irish hookers’ queue, is still adding to his collection. All being well he will surpass Keith Wood’s record — 58 caps as a hooker — in the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations Championship.
Tonight, though, his thoughts and sights are focused on the job in hand. Best knows what is required and he has no doubts about Ulster’s ability to deliver.
Doubtless in welcoming Terblanche to the dressing room he and the other seniors in the squad will have made the newcomer aware of the expectations, too.
So what will Best have shared with Terblanche regarding Ulster’s season to date? With typical zeal and balance he will have admitted that while it hasn’t quite been what they had hoped for, it’s certainly not all gloom. Far from it.
“A bit of a mixed bag,” he reckons. “The league form is hard to comment on — three great games to start off with, culminating in that 20-3 win over Cardiff at Ravenhill. Remember that was without nine of our players (himself included, of course) who were at the World Cup.
“Then you lose three more senior players to knocks and you have to go to the Ospreys and Dragons with what was basically an under-25 team and barely a handful of caps between them.
“That was always going to be really tough anyway. I know that because I’ve been to Ospreys and the Dragons and got a hiding — and I had international caps and plenty of Ulster caps at that stage.
“These kids won’t be the first — or the last — to go there and lose. But the problem is that when you’re that age and you lack a bit of experience your confidence can take a knock when you’re beaten like that.
“The Treviso game, obviously, was massively disappointing, though having said that the Pro12 was never going to be won and lost in September-October. But now we’re at the point where the games are becoming more and more crucial.
“Europe is huge so all of the games we play in the Heineken Cup are massive to us.”
His view of the campaign to date and Ulster’s 50-50 won one, lost one record is: “It was a great win against Clermont. They’re a top team and because we were at home to them in the first game we were always going to be under massive pressure.
“If you lose at home in round one to a top team, you can forget about it. So it was important for us to get that win. It’s just a pity that we didn’t manage to deny them a bonus, which would have been massive.
“Then the Leicester game was massively disappointing from my point of view.
“I’ve heard the word ‘unlucky’ thrown about a bit but in this game, the higher up the ladder you go, the bigger the prizes and the better the opponent so it’s about having to take what you deserve.
“You have to take it — you’re not given it.
“There’s no doubt that we deserved more at Welford Road but we didn’t go out and take it, unlike Leicester who did what they had to do in denying us a point at the very least.
“Unfortunately we didn’t do everything we might have done in trying to get it back and at the end of the day that was the big difference.
“We put ourselves in the position, with 20 minutes to go, where we could have won the game and we came away with nothing.
“It was very much within our own control and that’s why I was so disappointed.
“Fourteen points and top of the group by Christmas is what we want because it would be a big lift for us as, with matches against Leicester at home and Clermont away to come, our destiny would be in our own hands which is an exciting prospect.”