Tuesday 19 September 2017

Muller hails return of 'leader' Best as Ulster eye top spot

Ulster captain Johann Muller
Ulster captain Johann Muller
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

ULSTER captain Johann Muller has hailed Rory Best's return to fitness as a major boost to the province's chances of topping Pool 5.

The northerners face a Montpellier side already out of the Heineken Cup on Friday at Ravenhill before their winner-takes-all meeting with Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on Saturday week.

After getting their Pro12 season back on track with last weekend's win over Munster, Mark Anscombe's men will be looking to build momentum and the return of the skipper and Best, one of their spiritual leaders, is a big lift.

The 31-year-old hooker broke his arm in November's defeat to New Zealand and underwent surgery a few days later. However, he has now received the all-clear from an orthopaedic specialist to return to the fray.

Best had always targeted a return during the final window of European games, though the all-important clash against Premiership champions Leicester looked the more likely of the two for his comeback.

He was back in full-time training last week and was involved in full contact work this week. A decision on whether he starts in the No 2 jersey or from the bench depends on any reaction to training.

The same applies to Ulster skipper Muller, who missed the Munster game with a recurrence of a calf injury. The South African is looking forward to Best's return and what he provides for the team.

"It's outstanding that Rory is back," the Springbok said. "Not only is he a quality player, but a quality leader who brings a huge amount to this Ulster side.

"In Rory's absence, Rob Herring has been absolutely outstanding, but Rory brings such experience and he will be delighted to pull the jersey back on again."

Muller (right) is keeping his fingers crossed that he will be available for Friday's game amid rumours he might retire at the end of the season.

"I need a new body, never mind a new calf," laughed Muller, who will be returning home to Mossel Bay in two weeks' time for a short holiday to contemplate his future in the game.

"I took a full part in training regarding the line-out and scrums, but the deciding issue will be whether there is any reaction to this full-bore session.

"It's the same calf that has been giving me trouble this season. Last week it was scar tissue which was torn during training.

"It is nothing major, but it is very, very irritating and I definitely could not have played last week.

"To be honest at this point in time, I'm not 100pc just yet. While I came through things really well with regards to the line-out and scrum, the big test will be how things react. If everything is alright, then I'm good to go."

Although Montpellier are out of the running, Muller is expecting a backlash from the Top 14 side who Ulster stunned in round two.

"While I always said that the last game (against Tigers) will decide our pool, there is a lot of rugby to be played before that on Friday," he said.

"Montpellier are a real dangerous side. Really, they have nothing to lose and they will want to throw the ball about and play some decent rugby.

"At this stage, it is not about them, it's about us and what we can bring to the party at Ravenhill.

INTENSITY

"What we must do is bring a lot of intensity and physicality and finish off anything that we create. However, if we are even 5pc off the money, it could be a very long and painful evening's work.

"We just cannot have any lapses at all on Friday or next week. If we want to be contenders in Europe, you have to put in an 80-minute performance.

"As a team we can still get better. The frustrating thing for us is our consistency.

"If we can put together performances week-in, week-out like we did in the first half against Munster, there would not be too many teams that would beat us.

"The drop in our performances every now and again, like the one against Leinster, is a big disappointment.

"We must put in big performances all the time, and that is what is challenging us as a group."

Irish Independent

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