'It hurts when players you played with say things like that' - Rory Best admits O'Driscoll's 'basket-case' jibe stung
Ireland captain Rory Best has admitted that he was stung by ex-team-mate Brian O'Driscoll's criticism of Ulster as "a bit of a basket-case" last season.
The Leinster great made the comments as the northern province searched for a new coach in the wake of Jono Gibbes' exit and the trial of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who were both acquitted of rape charges but had their contracts revoked by the IRFU.
Ulster subsequently appointed Dan McFarland as head coach and rescued a poor on-field season by qualifying for the Champions Cup through a play-off.
With Jordi Murphy, Marty Moore and Billy Burns on board and McFarland now in situ in Belfast, there is a sense that this is a new beginning for the province.
"It didn't drive us as a group," Best said of O'Driscoll's comments. "It hurts, obviously, when players you played with say things like that.
"He'd probably admit to it, that he didn't mean to go as far as 'basket case' - it sort of came out. But it does hurt when players that you played with, and you feel you've been competitive with in terms of Ulster and Leinster games, it sort of does make you rethink 'what are we doing that this is the perception of us?'
"In terms of the group, there were things written about us that was probably accurate enough and there were things that were wide of the mark. It's important we don't let that define where we're going.
"There were moments from last season that were really unpleasant, those sort of things drive you on. There was also the end of the season when we showed a real attitude during games. There's been a lot of change over the summer."
Best's hamstring will keep him out of the start of the season and he said he will decide on his long-term future after the November internationals.
While Best was at the Guinness PRO14 launch in Glasgow, McFarland was getting down to work in Belfast, with help from Joe Schmidt.
"We always hoped he would be at the end of pre-season and it turned out that way and he is in before the start of the competitive games, which is fantastic," Ulster operations director Bryn Cunningham said.