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Best: 'The future is extremely bright for Ulster Rugby'

The Ireland captain has penned an open letter to the province’s supporters.

Best speaking to his Ulster team-mates after yesterday's win over Ospreys.
Best speaking to his Ulster team-mates after yesterday's win over Ospreys.
Image: Inpho/Billy Stickland

A SEASON OF unprecedented turmoil ended with a semblance of positivity in the form of Champions Cup qualification, and in an open letter to supporters, Rory Best insists the future is ‘extremely bright’ for Ulster Rugby.

Some of the gloom which has hung over Kingspan Stadium for much of a turbulent campaign was lifted yesterday afternoon when the northern province retained their place in the Champions Cup with a play-off win over Ospreys.

It was the bright spark of an otherwise disastrous year which saw Ulster fall at the first hurdle in Europe, finish fourth in Conference B of the Pro14, part company with Les Kiss and then receive notice from his successor, Jono Gibbes, that he too would be moving on.

In addressing supporters, Best describes the season as a ‘challenging one both on and off the pitch’ but says there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future, pointing to the number of academy players who broke into the senior ranks through this term.

“After a challenging season both on and off the pitch, I thought it was appropriate for me, on behalf of the playing group, to share our thanks for your loyal support once again,” Best, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury, writes.

“As players, we visit clubs, schools and other organisations across the Province on a weekly basis and it is truly humbling to see how much support we have within the community.

“I watched yesterday’s game from the stands – the atmosphere was brilliant – and the support was really appreciated by all players, especially those who were saying goodbye.

“While it would be easy to look back on the season with some negativity, I would like to share some of the positives that I’ve witnessed.

“I would like to pay tribute to my team mates for their fight and spirit throughout. To finish the season unbeaten in our last five games is testament to the character and quality of the players and I couldn’t be prouder of them.

“It’s been pleasing to see so many of my teammates grow and develop as players and leaders over the past 12 months.

Jacob Stockdale celebrates his try with team mates Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“As a senior player, it is exciting to see that the future is extremely bright for Ulster Rugby. We’ve had eight Academy players experience first team rugby this season and we have a record number of players representing Ireland at under-age level.

“Having secured Champions Cup qualification, we will start pre-season with enthusiasm and confidence, and we look forward to welcoming some quality players and coaches into the set-up during the summer.”

The Ulster captain finished by paying tribute to the club’s departing players, including Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe who are retiring from professional rugby.

“Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the contribution of some great servants to Ulster Rugby who will bid farewell this summer, in particular Andrew Trimble, Paul Marshall, Robbie Diack, Tommy Bowe, Callum Black and Norman Pollock. I wish them and their families all the best for the future.

“Thanks again for standing up for us this season. It’s a privilege to continue to represent you.”

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