Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby Ulster

Ulster captain Rory Best is keeping his guard up for a Leinster backlash

By Michael Sadlier

Ulster skipper Rory Best has warned his team-mates to dismiss any notion that under-pressure Leinster are there for the taking come Friday night at the Kingspan.

Indeed, he has made it clear that the southern province - who agonisingly tumbled out of Europe on Sunday and need to win in Belfast to keep their PRO12 ambitions alive - will not fear coming to Ulster's home for a derby game which has so much at stake for both sides.

Should third-placed Ulster win the sold-out crunch clash, and rack up a rare victory over their southern neighbours who are also reigning PRO12 champions, then Best and co will have sealed a top-four finish with two games to go before the semi-finals.

As for Leinster, they must gather themselves for another season-defining meeting just five days after missing out on a place in the Champions Cup final after a mere 25-20 defeat to Toulon after extra time in Marseille.

Lose at the Kingspan and Matt O'Connor's squad look certain to be ending any interest in retaining their PRO12 title as should the Ospreys beat Cardiff Blues the following day, then fifth-placed Leinster will not be able to make a top-four finish.

So, the pressure really is on the visitors though Best is refusing to accept that there could hardly be a better time for Ulster - who have so far won all their PRO12 home games in this campaign - to try and get one over on the side they have only beaten twice on the last 13 occasions they have met.

"They'll hold no fear coming here," insisted Best.

"They're the one team that probably hold the least fear (of Belfast) but at the same time we have had time to prepare for it," the skipper added, alluding to Ulster not having a game last week and Leinster's short lead-in time for this crunch clash.

"They're coming off the back of a five-day turnaround, but they have quality players throughout their squad. Even if they make changes from Sunday, it's still internationals they'll be bringing in," the Ulster skipper stated.

Not wishing to dwell on Ulster's dismal record against the men in blue, Best emphasised that the squad's sole focus is on securing this win and then, hopefully, closing in on a top-two finish for a home semi-final to take them one game away from the already designated Kingspan final.

The Ulster skipper made it abundantly clear that the silverware-chasing squad now have nowhere to hide if they falter at the business end of the season.

"The big thing for us now is that if we have another wobble there is no time to fight your way back. It's now time to front up," he stated.

Of course, putting Leinster out of contention would also be hugely satisfying - especially when you consider that the southern province are responsible for ending Ulster's interests in silverware, on both domestic and European fronts, for the last four years - but, naturally, the bigger picture is all that really matters.

"All we can do is chip another win off and guarantee a top-four finish," says Best, though the fundamental goal remains a home play-off by also beating Munster at home and probably Glasgow away.

"For us, a home semi-final would be massive and we've got to try and guarantee ourselves top two," he concluded, also aware that an away team has yet to taste victory in a PRO12 semi-final since they were introduced in 2009-10.

So, two wins from two remaining home games are simply non-negotiable. First, though, it's all about dealing with Leinster.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph