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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 26 June, 2019

'There is no shift in power between the Irish provinces and English clubs'

Both Ulster and Leinster lost to Premiership sides over the weekend but Rory Best says we shouldn’t read too much into them.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

RORY BEST INSISTS the Irish provinces aren’t suffering from a World Cup hangover despite Ulster and Leinster’s European seasons hanging by a thread after two damaging results over the weekend.

Ulster’s opening Champions Cup pool game was postponed last week due to the atrocities in Paris but when they eventually got their campaign underway on Friday, it was a night to forget for the northern province.

Saracens walked away from Ravenhill with a bonus-point win as the visitors’ clinical attack punished an Ulster side boosted by the return of their Irish internationals.

With Billy Vunipola in the sin-bin, the Premiership outfit scored 12 unanswered points to overturn a nine point deficit and provide the platform for an emphatic 27-9 victory.

Leinster’s defeat in Bath on Sunday then compounded a dispiriting weekend in Europe for the provinces but Best doesn’t believe the balance of power isn’t shifting.

“We’re judging it on two very bad results for Irish provinces,” Best said after Friday’s game. “And we came here with a plan that we were fully confident we would win with.

“We just didn’t implement it as strictly as we needed to and I don’t think there’s a shift of power but certainly I think from one-off games, for both provinces, were bitterly disappointing.”

After an exhausting World Cup campaign, there’s been little time to recharge the batteries for those involved at international level but Best doesn’t believe it has had a bearing on performances or results.

“It wasn’t two performances at home either of us would be proud of but we’ve come back in, and it’s always we talked about, the strength in Irish rugby that you get back to your Irish provinces and it means a lot more to play for your province than maybe some of the English teams that more freely move about,” the Ulster captain continued.

“But it definitely didn’t look like that tonight [Friday] and last week as well from Leinster it didn’t look like it but I don’t think there is a hangover.

Saracens' players celebrate their last try of the night Ulster were caught off guard by Saracens at Ravenhill. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Irish rugby probably suffered more injuries than anyone else during the tournament and obviously the Welsh regions are struggling a wee bit too but I think for us, you know what to expect.

“We’re used to going into Six Nations and coming back in and there’s that expectation and pressure on you to fit back in. We’re used to doing that so I don’t think there’s a hangover, we just didn’t perform to the level that we expect of ourselves and are capable of.”

Although Owen Farrell was uncharacteristically off radar from the tee, Chris Wyles, Alex Goode, Duncan Taylor and Vunipola all touched down to ensure Saracens took control of Pool 1.

It all amounted to a pretty miserable European debut in charge for Les Kiss, although he now has a couple of weeks to right the wrongs before round three in early December.

Before then, Ulster return to Pro12 action on Friday when they travel to Dublin to face Leinster. Leo Cullen’s side have endured a nightmare start to their European season after back-to-back reversals to Wasps and Bath.

And the timing of the inter-pronvincial fixture couldn’t be any better, according to Best.

“We have to be man about it and stand up on Monday morning and it will be a tough review,” he added.

“Nobody likes to lose games especially big games at home but the good thing about having Leinster next week is that if we don’t learn from that and do it quickly and produce a lot better performance we’ll be on the end of a beating like that and that’s the pressure we’re under.

“We’ll be looking for a vast improvement next week.

“We’re far better than we showed at times and at times we actually showed some pretty good stuff but other times we were so far off and I suppose the big difference in the like of a Saracens compared to some of the other English clubs, if you give them a half chance they’ll take it and they built a lot of pressure.

“They had four really good opportunities and scored four tries so you have to give them massive credit for the way they played but we know we’re considerably better than that.”

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Ryan Bailey

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