Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# fine margins
Rory Best: Ulster must stay cool and selfish to see off Saracens
The hooker is counting the minutes to Saturday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final at Ravenhill.

THE COUNTDOWN IS on for Ulster hooker Rory Best.

The Six Nations champion has not played a minute of rugby since being withdrawn with Ireland hanging onto a lead at the Stade de France, but he has his game face well and truly back on.

Best keeps returning to the numbers 6:30 to refer to Saturday night’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens as if no other point in his schedule this week matters.

“We need to make sure that between now and 6:30 that anything you feel might make a slight difference or might aid your performance – even if you think it’s half of a percent – you go and do it.”

Best will be making his apologies to his son Ben and daughter Penny, because that is the message he and captain Johann Muller will give to the squad this week.

“If it’s resting up; you go and rest up. If it’s getting an hour in bed of an afternoon, you go and do that. I think it’s the one week where you need to be a little bit selfish and just say; ‘I need to go and do this’ and go away and do it no matter what.”

The hooker still speaks ruefully of last year’s quarter-final against the same opponent, but insists that too much water has gone under the bridge for revenge to be any useful form of motivation.

The 31-year-old briefly lets his guard down to smile at Muller’s assertion that “the game will be won one place and once place only, in the forward battle,” but he soon slips back into his serious guise.

“If you ask any forward they’ll tell you the exact same thing every week.

“There’s no doubt that Saracens base a lot of their game on physically dominating teams. We experienced that 12 months ago and we didn’t really fire a shot back. It’s something we want to make sure we get right this year.

“If we can’t get dominance up front we’re going to struggle. It’s something that we pride ourselves on and it’s something that hurt the most last year was just how we got beaten up so badly.”

The chief totem of the Premiership leaders’ structure is their, at times, clockwork line-out and the first-phase moves that flow from that solid base. This close to a match of this magnitude, neither Best nor Muller were ever likely to go into great detail on how they intend to stop Steve Borthwick directing traffic from the sideline. However, they both separately agreed that they should focus more on maintaining their own threat and keep cool heads rather than worry about the visitors.

“I think you need to have a lot of confidence in your own ability as a line-out unit and we’ve massive confidence that Johann is going to make the right calls. Obviously we’ll throw in a few little bits and pieces that you feel will work better against them than against other teams.

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Keep calm and beat Sarries

“The thing that Saracens do really well is that they get teams flustered very easily.”

“You’re not going to go through a season without losing a line-out. The real test of a good line-out is how you react to losing that one. If we come out on Saturday and lose the first line-out then we’ll go about our business and make sure we do everything right again for the second one and we’ll just keep building from there. That’s the attitude we’ve got to have across the board; nobody plays the perfect game of rugby. Even when you play really, really well there are things you could do better.

“Whenever something doesn’t go perfectly for us, we just go to the next play and we try to do it better and we build momentum by doing that.”

The clock is ticking down to 6:30.

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