Tuesday 16 January 2018

Best urges Ulster to 'tighten up' as Toulon juggernaut looms large

Ulster captain Rory Best shakes hands with his Leicester counterpart Ben Youngs before their Champions Cup clash at Welford Road. Photo: John Dickson / DICKSONDIGITAL / SPORTSFILE
Ulster captain Rory Best shakes hands with his Leicester counterpart Ben Youngs before their Champions Cup clash at Welford Road. Photo: John Dickson / DICKSONDIGITAL / SPORTSFILE

Michael Sadlier

The door swings open and there, at the top of the cramped corridor which leads to the dressing-room at Welford Road, stands Rory Best shooting the breeze with fellow Lions hooker Tom Youngs.

Just above Best's eye is the unmissable sign of an open wound which had been hastily stitched and the equally unmistakable look of a player who has not had a pleasurable evening's work behind him, even though there has been some banter to be had with Leicester's Youngs, who missed the match through injury.

The Ulster skipper breaks away from the catch-up and, leaning on the corridor wall, lets it be known what now needs to be done with Toulon touching down in Belfast at the end of the week while also giving more than a nod to how things had panned out on the night just passed in the hotbed which is Welford Road.

"I think we just need to tighten it up," Best says alluding to the matter of hosting the star-laden squad who won the last two Heineken Cups and are the reigning Top 14 champions.

"Our focus, our decision making and our set-piece all have to be better," said Best who will mark his 50th European appearance for Ulster in Saturday's early afternoon encounter.

"But as I said in Zebre (Ulster's only previous defeat of the season prior to last Saturday's) one result doesn't make us a bad team.

"There are a lot of work-ons for us," Best added as all thoughts began to drift towards what will be needed on the training paddock this week, never mind the post-match video session with the coaching staff.

But before all that there was still much to flush out of the system regarding the 25-18 reverse in the Tigers' stronghold.

"In that middle 20 (minutes) in the first half we got beaten up and if you do that in Europe you'll always be chasing the game and struggle to win it," he lamented.

The message will not be lost on Ulster this week as Neil Doak and his coaching team plot a way of bouncing back and staying afloat in Pool Three in this the first season of Europe's brave new world with its streamlined competition.

"We didn't get a win but fought back for the bonus and we'll see where we are in January for that," Best added regarding the last two qualifying games against Toulon away and then the return clash with the English Premiership side when Leicester come to the Kingspan.

Much is yet to unfold before then, of course, with Saturday's colossal and must-win game with Toulon and then the back-to-back meetings with the Scarlets in December.

For now, though, it's all about absorbing the lessons of last Saturday to take into this one against the powerful French side who opened up at home by beating the Scarlets 28-18 - but failed to register a bonus point.

"We showed a lot of courage and dug deep to come back," the skipper said when addressing how Ulster managed to recover from being 22-3 behind at Welford Road to at least get something out of the game.

"At 19-3 and camped on our own line and them going to the TMO in looking for the bonus point, I think you'd take four points to one, rather than five to nil, but obviously we do set our standards higher.

"For us it's not about collecting points, we want to collect wins. But to come to Leicester and get a point after being 19-3 behind, well, we probably would have taken it."

Ulster's inaccuracy at their set-pieces did significant damage to their prospects, with seven lineouts having been lost according to the official statistics.

As usual, Best addressed the issue head on.

"To be fair they had done their homework and a couple of loose throws, a couple of dropped balls, and a couple of really good reads by them all added up," he said.

"But I think we got a little bit rattled (by them) and we lost the set-piece battle that had effectively won us the game the week before.

"We were on the back foot for large parts of the first half but we regained composure and fought our way back.

"But when we got ball we looked dangerous."

So, there is much to be done with Toulon waiting in the wings.

Irish Independent

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