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Racing aren't infallible and Ulster will go all out to stop them, warns Best

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster skipper Rory Best has challenged his side to step up their performance once more against Racing 92 this weekend.

The northern province are in Paris on Saturday evening (5.30pm kick-off) buoyed by their victory over Leicester in the Champions Cup opening round.

Racing are favourites for the pool, especially after their own win away to Scarlets on Saturday, and indeed among the small group thought to be realistic challengers for Leinster's crown.

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For Ulster, it's a similar position to last season when they began this competition with a win over Wasps but unravelled away to La Rochelle a week later.

It was one of two occasions when they followed up a big European win on home soil with a limp effort on their travels - the other having beaten La Rochelle but then going down without firing a shot to Wasps with a quarter-final spot on the line.

Best is looking to buck that trend in the ultra-modern La Defense Arena.

"As everyone knows, if you want to be in the mix come January, you need to win your home games," said the hooker, who put in a tremendous shift for his side against Tigers. "I think internally we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to back up the performances but it's something we've been guilty of (not doing) in the past couple of seasons.

"It's important we back it up.

"If you go back to last season, we played La Rochelle here and put in a big performance and then we went away to Wasps and flattered to deceive.

"It's important we prepare well and go there, regardless of what the external expectations are, and we put pressure on ourselves to put in a big performance."

Best, who has recent fond memories of Paris thanks to Johnny Sexton's now famous Six Nations drop goal, is under no illusions when it comes to the size of challenge that awaits.

"It's going to be tough," he said.

"If we thought that Leicester were big then Racing are going to take it to another level. They're a team that are probably second favourites for the competition.

"It's a massive ask and it's going to be a massive task but since the Heineken Cup was revamped, there aren't any easy groups.

"We're away to the top seeds. We'll go there and we'll prepare like we always do.

"We'll aim to take a big step forward. They haven't been completely infallible this season and we'll go, take that little bit of confidence and aim to stop them. You can't let a team like that get their tails up."

The victory for his side on Saturday was obviously an important one, firstly for any European hopes they harbour but also in the wider context of the season.

Having gone three without a win, including two interpro losses, a blot on their proud record against the Tigers would have left a decidedly sour taste.

"Even from the 60-point thrashing at Thomond Park there were still aspects of that game we were happy with.

"You're never happy to lose by that much, and there was a lot of the game we weren't happy with, but all you need is building blocks."

If the 36-year-old Best was a key figure in the weekend win then, at the other end of the age spectrum, so too was Michael Lowry, the 20-year old who stood tall on his first senior start when deployed out of position.

"He did alright, didn't he?" laughed Best.

"The frightening thing with Michael is that my (son) Ben is closer in age to him than he is to me.

"We know how talented he is but we knew that he was going to be targeted.

"He comes back from that and won a class penalty on a 50/50 ball that he just said was going to be his.

"Some of these young guys, we don't expect them to be perfect but we expect to see that attitude and he showed that in spades.

"Having seen him around the place for the last year, we saw a lot of him bouncing on Swiss balls and stuff, but his work ethic is what we saw.

"He had an opportunity and he took it with both hands."

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