Tuesday 25 July 2017

Ulster have been waiting too long for silverware - Best


Jonathan Bradley

As Rory Best thinks back to the May evening in 2006 when Ulster last lifted a trophy, he is struck by just how few of his team-mates from that triumph are still around.

When David Humphreys launched a last-minute drop goal against the Ospreys to seal the Celtic League almost 10 years ago, only four of Ulster's current number were involved.

While retirement has only recently called for the likes of Paddy Wallace and Stephen Ferris - and Bryn Cunningham, Kieran Campbell, Nigel Brady and James Topping are still involved with the organisation in varying capacities - there are only Best, Andrew Trimble, Roger Wilson and Tommy Bowe still part of the playing squad. Remembering that day, the current captain would never have believed Ulster would still be waiting for their next trophy.

"It's been a long time," he sighs. "There's not many of us left that were playing that night in Swansea, just the four of us now. It's been too long and with the quality that we have but we've been lacking something.

"For this season, and the tail end, it's important that we win each game but also address what it has been that's stopped us crossing the line. With Les (Kiss), there's a big emphasis on the mental side of things. He's trying to address it and put his own take on how he perceived us from the outside."

Ulster face second-from-bottom Zebre in Parma this afternoon, knowing that any unexpected slip-up will all but ensure their trophy drought stretches into next season. Having already experienced some heartache this year - they missed out on the knockouts in the Champions Cup despite winning four pool games - Best has little interest in enduring any more.

"We saw this year in the Champions Cup that the margins are fine," he recalls. "A bad 40 minutes away, or a bad last 20 at home, can be the difference.

"It meant in the end that we were sat watching the quarter-finals last week instead of playing in them."

Ulster will be expected to win and win well while, with the two teams directly above them squaring off, a five-pointer could go a long way to restoring their place in the top four ahead of concluding rounds against Leinster and Ospreys. Best, however, is not looking any further than today.

"We talked before the Connacht game that it was knockout rugby for us and that's still the case. For us, it's all about Zebre. We have to make sure that we're prepared for it, especially over there. They'll always pick up a scalp at home."

While Best has played only once for his province since the Six Nations - a try-scoring outing against Connacht - his mindset will switch back to Ireland this evening with a one-day training camp to be held tomorrow. "It's good to be back in," he says. "It doesn't seem that long ago that we broke up but I think it'll be nice to get the lay of the land for the summer."

Verdict: Ulster

Ulster -J Payne; T Bowe, L Marshall, S Olding, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best (capt), R Lutton, P Browne, F van der Merwe, I Henderson, S Reidy, R Wilson.

Zebre v Ulster, Live, BBC 2, 4.00pm

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