THE BIG CHALLENGES just keep on coming for Rory Best.
It’s just that this weekend’s will be a slightly less familiar foe.
For two weeks on the trot he has locked horns with his old muckers from the Lions tour; Richard Hibbard and Tom Youngs each consigned to defeat with a little help from the 14 other Ulstermen on the field.
The latest direct opponent was Youngs and Leicester, and the smile that goes along with talk of common interests melts away as Best’s voice slows to calmly describe how his front row turned fortune Ulster’s way in the 22- 16 win at Ravenhill.
“We just talked about how they were trying to split us. I went with Declan [Fitzpatrick, tighthead} a little more and tried to put a bit more pressure onto Tom Youngs – they were trying to get a two-on-one against Deccie,” Best told CornerFlagTV this week.
“We maybe got our stuff a little bit wrong in the first half and we weren’t as aggressive in the hit as we wanted to be. We sorted that out.
“We talked about Leicester wanting to get penalties to win the game through their scrum and how big a statement it would be to switch it round. Ultimately that’s where it went – we got two massive penalties and six points was the difference.”
Every last point counts in the hunt for a quarter-final berth and Leicester salvaging one from the opening night means nobody around Newforge or Ravenhill will be fooling themselves into thinking that even a sixth of the hard work is done.
Montpellier with hooker Charles Geli will be the least familiar of three opponents for this Ulster squad, but Ulster’s awful record in France means they won’t be caught off guard.
Of course, that bleak record got a whole lot brighter last January when Ruan Pienaar’s penalties and Paddy Jackson’s guidance off the bench helped Ulster finally claim a first win on French soil.
It’s Jackson’s generation that the northern province now look to for inspiration again. In youth there is no losing history, just a culture of a province which now expects to reach the Heineken Cup knock-out stage. That’s why Best speaks with such relish for the loss of comfort zone, he looks forward to matching anything the south of France can throw at him.
“It’s going to be a tough place to go; probably going to be considerably warmer than Belfast and they’re going to look to play very high tempo. That obviously suits us, that’s the way we want to play.”
When Ulster go well that tempo, if not set by them, is maintained by the up-and-comers wearing the Red Hand and Best wants the young guns to prove their worth at this level… just in time for November.
“We’ve a lot of internationals in our team and a lot of boys aspiring to be be internationals,” says the hooker. “Well, for those boys aspiring, this is their chance to show everybody and themselves that they can get to that international level.
“This is why you’re picked on this team, this is why you’re part of the squad: on the big occasions you step up and play like it’s an international and reach that level of consistency and performance.”