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Ulster must turn La Rochelle delight into season's turning point, says Best

By Jonathan Bradley

Skipper Rory Best has called on his Ulster team-mates to build on Saturday's win over La Rochelle and not fall back into the bad habits that have plagued them throughout this season.

The hooker was man of the match as the province took over top spot in their Pool with a 20-13 win against the much-fancied French side, a result that came something out of the blue after struggles against their Irish rivals in three straight interpros.

Les Kiss' side will book a first European quarter-final since 2014 with a win at Wasps on Sunday, and would even guarantee a home tie in the last eight if they were to do so with a try bonus.

When pitching up in Coventry this weekend, Best wants to show that the impressive triumph last time out is no false dawn.

"I think we will see how we can back it up," he said. "We need to get back in and get back down to earth again and make sure this is not another false dawn."

Saturday’s vast improvement was the product of plenty of soul-searching during the week, and Best warned that the side can’t forget that off the back of a big win.

“We realise what it took to get to that point before a ball is even kicked and then what it took over that 80 minutes to get us the win. That is ultimately what we will see. If we can reproduce better again and we can set our benchmark it will be a turning point for us.

“But if we allow complacency to come in and we cut a few corners and we produce something that is not somewhere near our best, then it will just be frustrating, and there will be a little bit of (thinking it was) all for nothing.

“I think we have to connect the dots to what we did during the training week and that how you prepare, equals what you do at the weekend.

“If you make mistakes in training continually they are going to manifest themselves in games. That is the big challenge for us and we will see where we are on Sunday.”

On a personal note, the win was a huge relief for Best, who thanks to injuries, Ireland and Lions involvements, and Ulster’s indifferent form, had not won in a provincial jersey since December of 2016.

Joking afterwards that he had been starting to think he was the problem, Best played like a man intent on putting any such notion to rest.

He was to the fore as Ulster upped their intensity to a level unrecognisable to the meek effort to Leinster last time out, with his first European try since 2014 merely the icing on the cake of a typically tenacious showing.

With the monkey finally off his back, he admitted he hadn’t been entirely honest when previously asked about the lengthy drought.

“I think I was lying when I said it doesn’t affect you and you don’t think about it because ultimately you do. It means so much to all of us to win and to win in an Ulster shirt.

“That is what we prepare for. We prepare to win matches and when it does not happen it hurts us all. I think it is something we talked about, reactions to that Christmas period and we hadn’t delivered on it.

“But if you look back at this week and the way everyone prepared, weighed in and the hard work that went in, it was nice that it came out on the pitch for a bit of a change.”

Ulster should find out the extent of Craig Gilroy’s injuries today amid fears he may have broken a cheekbone. The winger had to come off after less than half of an hour of action after a heavy collision.

Having scored six tries in his five games before this weekend, a lengthy absence for the 26-year-old would be hard to swallow for Ulster, especially with Tommy Bowe already out and Jacob Stockdale soon to depart for the Six Nations.

They do hope to have Wiehahn Herbst back for this week though, while Paul Marshall could also be fit enough to take up his place on the bench behind John Cooney.

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