Belfast Telegraph

There'll be no knees-up unless Ulster Rugby win: Rory Best

By Niall Crozier

Rory Best makes his 150th appearance for Ulster tomorrow night at Welford Road where Mark Anscombe's men square up to Leicester Tigers, the reigning champions of England.

But, as is typical of Ireland's most capped hooker, personal milestones come second to what matters to the team as a whole. And with the prize for the winners being a home quarter-final in the Heineken Cup, Best reckons that is by far the more important consideration.

"It's a great achievement and a nice milestone to get. But, ultimately, you'd swap all of that for a home quarter-final," he said, leaving no-one in any doubt as to his priorities.

"It'll be nice, when you've finished, to look back and count up all your caps, but it's something I'm not really focusing on."

Ulster have come a very long way in Best's10 years with them. But listening to him, it is very clear that he wants more, starting at Welford Road.

"It has the potential to be a great night," Best said. "Once we got out of the group and into the quarter-finals for the first time we said then that what we wanted was a home one.

"We've put ourselves in a great position where we're the only team in Europe not to have been beaten. We need to make sure we maintain that to get that home quarter-final.

"We've put ourselves in positions before; last year we were in a great position in the December games (against Northampton Saints) and then we let it skip. Ultimately that cost us a home quarter-final, so we need to make sure we do everything right."

With Ulster and Leicester alike having qualified for the knock-out stages, tomorrow night is about which of the pair will have home advantage come April. A bonus for losing by seven points or fewer might well be enough for Ulster. But Best isn't interested in that; he wants to win and, by completing a perfect six out of six, emerge top of the pile of eight runners still in the hunt.

"It's something that we talked about at the very start of the campaign, that we wouldn't be going anywhere to get losing bonus points, we'd be going to win every game. We did that away to Montpellier and we see this as being no different," he confirmed.

"Traditionally you get maybe one (winner) away from home in the quarters, but the odds are a bit more in your favour if you're at home," he stressed.

With the final phase of Ravenhill's complete re-build advancing a-pace, the prospect of hosting a quarter-final before a partisan capacity crowd has Best drooling in anticipation.

"If we can get the ground finished and be into by then, you're looking at 18,000 people at home. I suppose it's what you play rugby for – you want to play for Ulster, you want to play in the biggest games and you want to play them at home," he said.

"It would be nice to be able to put the pressure on the builders to make sure they're ready for it by winning this Saturday. This place has come on so much in the 10 years I've been here – particularly in the last couple – and it would be nice to finally cap off where this team can go by getting that home quarter-final."

Best is under no illusions – if they are to secure that tomorrow night they must perform at the peak of their ability in order to see off star-studded opponents in their own backyard.

"It's a very tough place to go and win against a very tough team," he agreed. "But we also know that we're capable of doing it."

As a result of past encounters in the colours of Ulster and Ireland against Leicester and England and last summer's Lions tour, Ulster's battle-scarred, conflict-hardened hooker knows quite a few of those he will be facing tomorrow night. His respect for them is obvious.

"They're what you would expect from a successful outfit," he said. "They're very determined, they're very ruthless, they know their stuff, know their rugby and they're a very close-knit, together bunch.

"They're great lads off the pitch. On the pitch they're very hard, they're very tough. We obviously played against most of them at Ravenhill and it was what you'd expect –they didn't care who you were, they came flying in. After the game we'd a good bit of craic, that's the way it is.

"They're a very, very good team – you don't have five Lions from one club and not be a good team. I think they've shown, not only historically but over this group stage as well, that they're a force to be reckoned with.

"We're probably being written off by a lot (of people) but that doesn't bother us one way or another. We know that they know we're a good team. Now we need to go out and show them that we can produce a performance."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph