Sunday 4 December 2016

Best happy Ulster still masters of own destiny in hunt for silverware

Published 07/01/2011 | 05:00

DESPITE back-to-back derby defeats, Ulster skipper Rory Best pointed out that Ulster have their future in their own hands heading into a crucial month for the province.

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A listless loss at home to Leinster and a late collapse against Munster at Thomond Park has seen the northerners slip to sixth, six points from the semi-final positions. But with a game in hand and the visit of Treviso to Belfast tonight, Best is pleased that Ulster still have their destiny in their own hands.

"Far too often when the New Year arrived previously our season was practically finished in terms of going for silverware in both the Magners League and the Heineken Cup," said the Ireland hooker.

"This time around we are in contention in both and that is where we wanted to be. Ideally we would like to be top in both."

Best's fitness has come into sharp focus given the luckless Jerry Flannery's latest injury setback and Declan Kidney will be hoping he comes though the next month unscathed.

From the defeat to Munster, Simon Danielli is the only player to retain his position in the backline as Paddy Wallace shifts to No 12 from out-half, with the Ian Humphreys-Ruan Pienaar axis restored at half-back, despite Paul Marshall's good showing over Christmas.

Willie Faloon and Chris Henry get a rare chance to start in the same back-row together but the latter is named at blindside, with Pedrie Wanneburg at No 8 and Stephen Ferris on the bench as he continues his comeback from injury.

Best conceded that the pressure is on Ulster and branded the coming matches as must-win games.

"There are must-win games coming up every week now, but that is how we mapped the season out for ourselves when we set our targets back in August," explained Best.

"We put ourselves into a great position in the league going into Christmas with two away wins over Cardiff and Treviso, so we do not want to be spoiling all that hard work and end up losing three in a row, following the defeats to Leinster and Munster."

In the early part of the defeat to Munster, there were signs that Ulster were maturing into a side that could get crucial results away from Ravenhill. Pienaar is still finding his feet at the province but has shown flashes of brilliance and he'll have noticed Marshall's fine performances in his absence.

Henry and Faloon are exciting prospects and the front row of Tom Court, Best and BJ Botha can provide the platform at scrum time for that pair to do plenty of damage.

The Italians have impressed so far, winning six Magners League games, the same number as Ulster. However, when the sides met in Italy at the end of November, Ulster were comfortable in chalking up their fifth win out of five meetings.

With a season-defining Heineken Cup tie against Biarritz on the horizon, Ulster could cut loose.

Verdict: Ulster

Ulster -- A D'Arcy; A Trimble, N Spence, P Wallace, S Danielli; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best (Captain), BJ Botha; J Muller, T Barker; C Henry, W Faloon, P Wannenburg Reps: N Brady, B Young, D Fitzpatrick, D Tuohy, S Ferris, P Marshall, I Whitten, D McIlwaine.

Treviso -- K Burton; L Nitoglia, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, A Vilk; W De Waal, F Semenzato; I Rouyet, L Ghiraldini, L Cittadini; G Padro, C Van Zyl; M Filippucci, A Zanni, M Vosawai Reps: F Sbaraglini, A Allori, P Di Santo, V Bernabò, P Derbyshire, F Minto, T Botes, G Garcia.

Ref -- N Paterson (SRU).

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