'Expectations are nothing unless we back it up on pitch'
Best demands Ulster go one step further than last season’s fairytale
Sometimes even your best isn't good enough.
As the weekly influx of international stars pitch up for duty at Ravenhill -- Ruan Pienaar is in line to return for Ulster this Friday against Castres -- Rory Best has declared that his side cannot afford to wallow in last year's achievement of reaching the Heineken Cup final.
His stirring declaration engages with the demand of a squad and supporters who see last year's fairytale run to the final as a beginning, not a remarkable once-off, for the hitherto perennial underachievers.
"The expectations mean nothing if you can't back it up on the pitch," he says. "We have to deal with ourselves, show that we're right, pay every opponent the same respect, whether it's Castres now or Munster in last year's quarter-final.
"You look at Northampton, who got to a final one year and then backed it up with what was, by their own high standards, a disappointing Heineken Cup campaign when they didn't even get out of their group.
"That's what we need to guard against. We can't assume that just because we got to the final last season, we automatically have the right to do well again this season. This is a very tough competition.
"We need to knuckle down and not only be as good as last year, but be considerably better because we were 20 or so points off the finalists."
Pienaar's return heightens the anticipation among the Ravenhill faithful as they prepare to kick off this season's campaign against the often flaky French travellers.
"It definitely gives us a lift," declares Best. "A few things this year have been very strange for Ulster. We haven't yet managed to put the same XV out in successive games.
"Usually you get your best XV and play them every week because you feel that's all you've got. Every week we've added an international piece to the jigsaw and Ruan coming in this week is the final piece in the jigsaw. Ruan is a very popular guy, not only for what he does on the pitch, but for what he adds off it."
Despite an unbeaten start to the Pro12 campaign, coach Mark Anscombe was clearly unhappy with the manner of last week's apparently facile 25-0 success against Connacht.
Again, it is a measure of the standards that the club set themselves as they were exposed for the first time to the extent of the Kiwi's post-match wrath. That the players were expecting a dressing-down is also indicative.
"We were a little annoyed as well," Best says. "We set our standards and we'd done that against Cardiff the previous week. Everything had come off then, our offloads and everything.
"But we were a wee bit scrappy with the ball last Friday. Mark was disappointed, but we all were.
"We can only judge ourselves by our own high standards. We got into a number of good positions, but we let ourselves down by being poor at the breakdown and being sloppy with the ball in contact."
Even Best admits to falling below the extraordinarily consistent standards he has hit during the past couple of seasons for Ireland and Ulster, when his final throw before being substituted on his seasonal reappearance went slightly awry.
"Yeah I had one a bit sideways," he grimaces a tad crankily. "I was annoyed with that. It was concentration. We were going to maul them and I was thinking that I can sneak in for a try here. I should have concentrated on the throw.
"I was a bit nervous going into it and then everybody was reminding me that I hadn't played since June. It's only when you look back on it, you realise you've been out for so long. You're thinking: 'I hope I can still remember how to play!'"
Injury-doubt Nick Williams is also included and could well be involved, with Anscombe saying yesterday that the flanker's chances of playing were "60-40" in favour.
Williams is said to have responded well to treatment and a decision on his fitness will be made later in the week.
Lock Neil McComb and hooker Nigel Brady also return to the Ulster panel, but prop Declan Fitzpatrick remains unavailable after aggravating a medial ligament injury in training last week.
Roger Wilson is continuing to recover from a hamstring injury and misses out, while Sean Doyle will not be available after breaking his leg when playing for Dungannon at the weekend.