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Defeat has taken gloss off my 200th Ulster cap, admits gutted Best

Ulster 10 Leinster 25

By Jonathan Bradley

In the end, it was not a performance befitting the occasion of Rory Best's big day.

Given his long list of achievements in both white and green jerseys since the captain for club and country arrived on the scene in 2004, there is an argument to be made that Best deserves his place on the Mount Rushmore of Ulster greats, but his 200th cap was a night to forget as Leinster secured their first win in Belfast for over three years, a wholly deserved 25-10 victory when the hosts had only a Sean Reidy try in the first half to shout about.

Just like Andrew Trimble, Roger Wilson and Robbie Diack before him, Best's red letter day ended on a sour note.

"When I started off many moons ago, if somebody said fast forward 13 years and you will get to play 200 times for Ulster, and not only that, you will get to run out at home against Leinster with three healthy kids, that would be 99% of everything you want," said the man who was flanked by kids Richie, Ben and Penny as he took the field.

"Obviously to get the 100%, you want the performance and the result too because you are greedy.

"I think it started off as the perfect night, but unfortunately you have to be honest and say I have had a lot of milestones and I feel that was one of the most disappointing ones.

"We came in and we talked about it being a big inter-pro with Leinster going well. When they are going well you know you have to be on your money to beat them. We weren't, we're massively disappointed."

While the increased talent available to Leinster coach Leo Cullen was best evidenced in a team that boasted 12 changes from their win over Glasgow but could still have the electric Jordan Larmour held in reserve, an undermanned Ulster were within touching distance at the half but a shambolic line-out and repetition of basic errors made it impossible to gain a foothold after the turn when playing into the wind.

Just like a week ago in La Rochelle, it was only 13-10 at half-time but Ulster's failure to score any points in the final 52 minutes of the contest meant they couldn't secure even a losing bonus point in a home league game for the first time in more than five years.

"I felt we were in a position to go and win that before the game and we just, for whatever reason, kept letting them off the hook," bemoaned Best.

"I think we just put mistake on mistake and we sort of said last week that the 50 minutes or so in La Rochelle only becomes a big positive if we kick on from it.

"The coaches were very frank afterwards in that everyone has to take responsibility.

"You could see it as players, I think we had a game plan and a few ideas to break them down but we just could not get there because either the set-piece (did not function) or dropped balls.

"I think probably one of the most frustrating things is every time we broke them with a clean line break, within a couple of phases we got turned over and it was almost the closer we got to their line at times, not always, but at times the less urgent we became to clean out the ruck.

"When they were bouncing out of the ruck and leaving it alone, we were going, 'This is reasonably easy' and then after three rucks, bang, they would go for it.

"When you let someone like a Sean O'Brien in on that ball, you have to win those little moments when you get there."

Ulster again lost Jean Deysel to a shoulder injury, and the back-rower will miss today's departure to South Africa as his team-mates prepare to take on the Southern Kings on Saturday.

With Marcell Coetzee already lost for the season, Best felt the removal of another ball carrier was tough to take in a game when the unforced error count was again driven skywards by knocking the ball on in contact.

"I just think we are a team, especially when you lose someone like Jean so early, who need phases to get into a game," he said. "We are not a La Rochelle where there are four or five people over 130kg. We need flow, we need a strong set-piece, we need all that and unfortunately we didn't get it.

"There were a lot of knock-ons, a couple of turnovers, and our scrum was good, but our lineout did not function to the standards we set.

"When you start to get that it is very hard to get out of your own half and you get under pressure.

"Leinster capitalised unbelievably well on the chances they got, but we talked in the changing rooms after and that was one of the most disappointing results we have had in a while."

Ulster have to lift themselves for their long, cross-continent journey, but Best is one of six players from Kingspan Stadium who will instead be in Carton House preparing for Ireland's three-game November slate that begins with the visit of the Springboks on November 11.

Having made his return from a hamstring injury against La Rochelle two weekends ago, the Leinster loss was his first start since the end of the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand over the summer.

Now with 75 minutes under his belt, he feels ready to lead out the side against South Africa in 12 days' time after being named Joe Schmidt's captain once again last week.

"I thought (Leinster) was the perfect sort of game for me to play in," said the 35-year-old in terms of his preparation for the month ahead.

"If you're not right you get found out. It gets the blood flowing and, all due respect to some other teams in this league, this is one that you have to be on the money for, as we found out.

"I feel good. I think the beauty of this camp week is that I can get a little bit extra done.

"You'll not be released on a Thursday to play in South Africa on a Saturday, so that's the case for the Ulster ones. I'll get a bit more work done this week.

"Fitness is something I'm hopefully reasonably good at it, and hopefully it has come back pretty quickly. There were areas I'm disappointed with, areas I was rusty, but there's two weeks to get that right."

After Saturday's bitter disappointment, those heading to, rather than preparing to face, South Africa will have considerably less time to do the same.


Ulster: C Piutau; T Bowe, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Leali'ifano, A Cairns; C Black, R Best, R Ah You; A O'Connor, I Henderson (C); S Reidy, C Henry, J Deysel.

Replacements: R Herring (for Best, 55), A Warwick (for Black, 55), R Kane (for Ah You, 73), K Treadwell (for O'Connor, 60), R Diack (for Deysel, 15), J Stewart (for Cairns, 60), P Nelson (for Leali'ifano, 66), L Ludik (for McCloksey, 69)

Leinster: R Kearney; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, N Reid, D Kearney; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath, J Tracy, T Furlong; D Toner, J Ryan; D Leavy, J Murphy, S O'Brien (C).

Replacements: R Strauss (for Tracy, 66), C Healy (McGrath, 47), A Porter (for Furlong, 60), R Molony (for Ryan, 11), J Conan (for Leavy, 55), L McGrath (for Gibson Park, 55), C Marsh (for Byrne, 77), J Larmour (for Reid, 2).

Man of the Match: Sean O'Brien.

Referee: John Lacey (IRE)


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